Photo of two women and one man wearing blue Street Sense Media vests with their orange Street Sense Media badges visible.
Photos by Rolando Aparicio Velasco

The mission of Street Sense Media asks us to stand beside those that society has cast out. I am in my fourth decade of work within the sphere of homeless services and never has the imperative of that mission felt more vital. Not since the influenza epidemic of 1918 has the U.S. faced a public health challenge on the scale of COVID-19. Everyone is being asked to do their part to contain and limit the spread of the virus. We are being bombarded by quickly changing information gleaned from lessons learned. Often advice about best practices is conflicting. 

Some among us are surely panicking – for instance, hoarding household supplies in ways inconsistent with genuine threats. 


Yet, in some instances, what looks like panic one day, reveals itself as wise foresight the next. Certainly, the swiftness and fluidity of the evolving pandemic and uncertainty about its future impact can instill a profound sense of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a double-edged sword. It can cleave us into isolation and fierce tribalism. It can divide and separate, ostracizing whole groups of people as “others” who pose a threat to our health and the health of our family. 

Vulnerability can also bring us into a deeper sense of kinship with our community. Just as COVID-19 is a historic threat to public health, it is also perhaps the greatest opportunity our lifetime will present to rebuild community. COVID-19 is bipartisan. It infects regardless of ideology, ethnicity or class. But make no mistake, unless we face this together, those among us who were vulnerable before this threat emerged will suffer the most.

And so, what we need now is an outbreak of kindness. We need to look beyond the very real and disruptive inconveniences our family is facing. We need to focus on those among us who are most vulnerable – the college student in foster care with no alternative housing when dorms are shuttered; the elderly and others for whom COVID-19 is a genuine threat to life; the person who is homeless, was shunned before the outbreak and has a compromised immune system and nowhere to isolate and recover.

Here at Street Sense Media, we’re committed to continuing full operations, especially the publication of Street Sense and the distribution of newspapers to our vendor community. For many of our vendors, selling papers is their sole source of income. It allows them to survive. As more workplaces, businesses, schools and families take precautionary social-distancing measures, we’re anticipating a significant drop in newspaper sales. This means less money in vendors’ pockets and a disruption in their hard work to lift themselves out of homelessness and extreme poverty.

[Read more: DC service organizations to stay open amid coronavirus-related closures]

Luckily, you can help. If you have a relationship with one of our vendors, or even if you don’t, please consider making direct payments to vendors through our mobile smartphone app. One hundred percent of these payments reach the people we serve directly. During a period of economic and medical hardship for our community, supporting our vendors through the app will make an enormous difference.

Even more, many vendors fall into high-risk categories that make the COVID-19 virus a pressing threat to their health and lives. Many of these people are disconnected from support systems and health service providers. It is essential that our case management team is on-site and at the ready to help those who become sick get the help they need. We are deeply grateful to the Episcopal Archdiocese of Washington that provides the space out of which we operate. Despite the Diocese-wide shutdown, we’ve been allowed to continue full operations. We’re here to stand with our colleagues. They need us more than ever. 

The fabric of our community is being tested right now. How will you respond?