Spare Change News

Spare Change NewsFor this episode, I took a good look at something many of us find ourselves pointedly avoiding: Spare Change News, a newspaper sold – and written – by Boston’s homeless.

Of course, Spare Change News doesn’t just help the homeless; the vendors may have a place to live (and even a job). The paper is there to give anyone who needs it a way to make money.

My guest is James Shearer, President of the Homeless Empowerment Project and one of the founders of Spare Change News. He and a number of others started the paper 15 years ago while living on the streets, then turned what sounded like a crazy idea into a paper which now publishes thousands of copies every month.

I’d always been intrigued by the paper and wanted to learn more, so I visited the paper’s office in the basement of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Harvard Square for a conversation with Mr. Shearer.

icon for podpress  Spare Change News [15:24m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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What a Great segment! You are like the Charles Kuralt of the podcast world! He would have loved your style.. I certainly do…
You find some wonderful people to be in touch with…so eclectic…so interesting…..
This one really helps give a face to the people you see around town…so many stories..such varied backgrounds… I guess we need to stop and get to understand these people…….just a paycheck or two from where a lot of us are…..<br />
thanks for another great choice of stories….</p>

This reminds me of “The Big Issue”, another homeless supporting magazine. Do you get that in Boston?

I would not give a dime to these people as they are mean.

The two that I see hang around street corners and I pass them every day. I bought the paper from the guy near my office in longwood and when I did not buy it another time he said something nasty under his breath to me. That was last year and still a year later I run into him on a daily basis and when someone does not buy the paper he gives a curt in your face remark.

Near Trader Joes in brookline there is a woman who sits in a chair near starbucks. Last year she came up to me and I told her I did not have a dollar on me and the woman had the nerve to say that is not what I asked you!!!!

Being rude and sarcastic is not the way to have people buy your paper. I love helping people out and give money to different organizations but refuse to give Spare change anything because of these two rude individuals.

Hi, one correction: Spare Change is not written by the homeless, only sold by them. They use freelance writers. I am one of them. =)

I am a photojournalist for Street Sights, a newspaper for the homeless community in Providence, RI. I really enjoy reading about these topics from different sources and viewpoints. I love the paper and everything it stands for. As for the two rude people, they are just trying to earn an honest buck and are not experienced at dealing with rejection from a sales standpoint. Maybe a little training in custumer relations and good work ethics will fix the problem. At least they are not hurting anyone or themselves. Give them some credit. However, they really should learn to realize there will be those who will not listen or buy. That is part of sales and any business venture.


E. Martin Schotz, MD
South End Community Health Center
Boston, MA
Dear Santa,

Christmas is coming, and this has been a confusing and embarrassing year.  So with everything that is rolling around in my brain, I have an unusual holiday request.

It all began when I visited a very unusual place — Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM). ELAM, the Latin American School of Medicine, is a medical school whose campus is a former naval base in Havana, Cuba.  It is possibly the largest medical school in the world with over 6000 students from 36 countries, most of them from the Global South.  At ELAM Cuba provides medical education to all these students free of charge in order that they can return to their home countries to practice medicine and to help build health infrastructure.

The curriculum at ELAM combines traditional medical school education with courses on the morality of the physician and medicine as a calling, as well as courses in public health, preventive medicine, and the specific health problems of the student’s particular home country.    Given that ELAM is a six year program of study, Cuba is sending approximately 1000 new doctors into the Global South every year.  And what is the United States doing?    According the the New England Journal of Medicine approximately 25% of the practicing U.S. physicians are international medical graduates. “Reliance on international medical graduates in the United States… is reducing the supply of physicians in the many lower-income countries.”

At this point I am getting a little confused and even annoyed.  Hey, I thought the Cubans were supposed to be good at baseball and music.  But them showing us up on world health — that’s another matter.  And this is not the whole story.  Now comes the embarrassing part.

A few years back in response to a request from our Black Congressional Caucus, the Cuban government opened 500 seats at ELAM for young people of modest means from the U.S. to study medicine free in Cuba, if they are willing to come back to the US and work in under-served areas.  Right now about one hundred-twenty students from the US are taking Cuba up on its offer, and some have already graduated and are back here working as physicians.

So what we have here is a neighbor 90 miles off our shore, whom our government calls “evil” and “terrorist”, a neighbor whom we have attacked militarily, blockaded economically, and refuse to recognize diplomatically.  And how does this neighbor respond?  They offer to train physicians for us free of charge on a converted military base!  Talk about “beating swords into plowshares”, “turning the other cheek”, and “love thy enemy.”   And our Congress passes a resolution declaring we are a nation under God — somehow that just doesn’t do it for me.

I was thinking we need something more substantial, and then it dawned on me. Cuba is a country with less than 1/20th the population of the United States, and far less than 1/20th of our material resources.  What about if we did what Cuba is doing, multiplied by a factor of twenty.   In other words, imagine us transforming 20 military bases across the country into medical schools.  Imagine us inviting 120,000 students from the Global South to study medicine free, with a curriculum similar to ELAM’s, so that we would be sending 20,000 new physicians back to their home countries each year to help build health care systems and preventive medicine infrastructure.  We could do it. It just takes the imagination and the political will.

That’s my wish this season.  I want you, Santa, to plant this idea in the ear of every member of Congress — “20 ELAMS, we’ve got to have 20 ELAMS.”  I understand they they might balk at spending money on poor people, not to mention foreigners, so maybe you could sell it as a smart cheap way to strengthen national security.  What do you think peoples’ attitudes in the Global South would be toward us, if we were sending them 20,000 additional doctors every year.  And anyone who wants to help Santa out could just clip this article and send it along.

Wishing everyone a happier and healthier holiday season.

I had a terrible experience this morning at 10:15am at the corner of Tremont and Winter when the “Spare Change Newspaper” person began following me down Tremont yelling, “Your Mother is a bitch.” I am an older person and it was awful. If you don’t give these people money – they follow it by using profanity or something mean. I will never give any money to these people again.

I am really inspired along with your writing abilities and also with the format to your blog.
Is that this a paid subject matter or did you customize it your self?
Either way stay up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to look a nice blog like this one nowadays..