Street Pulse newspaper plans a turnaround

by Jason Millis

In Suite 1 on the first floor of Porchlight Inc., a homeless resource center on Brooks Street, there is an office overlooked by many on their way into work, or into Grainger Hall right across the street.

Street Pulse is a non-profit newspaper that provides a way for homeless and other marginalized people in Madison to earn money, learn job skills and most importantly, have a voice.

Street Pulse has a checkered past is recently undergoing a revitalization.

“We are rebuilding the paper and hopefully turn it into a company well thought out and well-planned out for the future,” Executive Director Robert Huffar said.

Photo by Jason Millis

Recent Street Pulse issues sold around Madison. (Jason Millis)

In early 2015, the board of directors and all of Street Pulse’s support staff quit in protest of the way the newspaper was managed. Huffar was the last person standing.

“It’s been rough keeping everything connected,” Huffar said.

When he was promoted from being a vendor coordinator in February, the paper was in a bad state. There was no office, and paperwork hadn’t been updated in several years.

“There was nothing there. We don’t even know if the taxes were filed,” Huffar said.

Huffar is currently struggling to find an adequate amount of content and staff to keep the paper running, but many of these holes are being filled by students, who help with writing and business management.

“We’ve got one group called Enactus out of the business school,” Huffar said. “They’re helping us to rebuild marketing and financial accounting practices.”

Enactus is a student organization based in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business that identifies issues in the community and works to solve them.

After the walk-out, one student remained, Briana Reilly, current managing editor for the Badger Herald. During this critical time, she helped Huffar publish the paper each month and start the rebuilding of Street Pulse. She is still the social media director and helped set up the paper’s editing team.

Street Pulse is a non-profit organization. Huffar would like for donations to cover their costs, but right now the organization relies on what they bring in from the 17 vendors who pay for the papers and resell them on the street. Street Pulse currently makes around $1,500, which just covers their production costs.

They are currently working to recruit vendors. Vendors have been veterans as well as homeless students, whose financial aid pays for tuition but doesn’t cover their living expenses.

“We do have people out there who are paying their rent,” Huffar said, “Others are paying for their medications from what they earn from Street Pulse.”

Currently circulation is between 2,000-2,500 papers a month. In the past it was as high as 6,000.

“We used to have a lot of vendors who wanted to stand out there and drink and do drugs while representing the paper,” Huffar said. “They’re not around anymore because we’re trying to get away from that.”

They have a new agreement that clearly defines expectations of vendors who represent the paper. After the implementation of the vendor agreement, they went from about 40 vendors to 17, including Huffar and his wife, Angel.

Street Pulse is currently published on a monthly basis, but Huffar hopes that next year they will release issues every two weeks.

Finance manager, circulation directors, interns and assistants are jobs that Huffar would like to fill.

He hopes more students will help because they can teach him and help the paper succeed. He said that a lot of students and volunteers are surprised that he wants to learn so much from them. He said he tells them, “You know what you know, I know what I know, teach me.”

“Instead of just being Madison Street Pulse, we want it to be Wisconsin Street Pulse, we want to have offices in towns all around here so we can help the homeless, marginalized people,” Huffar said.

He wants Street Pulse to be part of a network that can help people who fell on bad times turn their lives around.

Huffar himself served a 26-year prison sentence before getting involved with Street Pulse. “If I can find somebody that was in my shoes and help them turn around, that is what I want to do,” he said.

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