TAMPA — The homeless in Tampa may once again find themselves in the publishing business.
The Homeless Voice street newspaper has been sold on Tampa street corners for two weeks, and although it has several failed Tampa and St. Petersburg runs in its history, this time it looks like it’s here to stay, said publisher and homeless activist Sean Cononie.
Cononie ran a homeless center for years in Hollywood, Florida, but moved his operation after the city bought his property for $5 million and a promise he wouldn’t return. He now houses the formerly homeless in Haines City in a refurbished, 21-room Howard Johnson motel he bought and reopened in March.
Cononie said the goal is to distribute the paper state-wide. About 35 to 40 percent of the proceeds from the paper help fund the motel, he said. The rest, and sometimes more depending on the day’s sales, go into the homeless person’s pocket.
The Homeless Voice is written, published, edited and distributed by the homeless for any donation a reader is willing to give. The paper also provides a loophole around Tampa’s panhandling ban.
There are already 12 homeless people in Tampa working for The Homeless Voice, and nearly 26,000 papers have been distributed, Cononie said.
“The biggest issue we face is working on the same corner as other panhandlers,” Cononie said. “Down south they don’t mind sharing the corners, but in Tampa they think they own the corner and generally aren’t very nice.”
Of the approximately 55 homeless newspapers in the U.S., The Homeless Voice has grown to be one of the largest, Cononie said. He’s published the papers throughout south Florida for nearly 20 years.
The Homeless Voice isn’t the first paper of its kind to come to Tampa. The Tampa Epoch, launched by the late south Tampa marketer and publisher Bill Sharpe, ceased publication last year.
The motivations behind Cononie’s paper and his shelter are similar to the Epoch’s. He said the paper isn’t meant to just provide quick cash for chronic homeless, but rather prepare them to enter the workforce. By managing nearly every aspect of The Homeless Voice, they get used to getting up for a full work day. The motel is also run by homeless, some of whom have used their skills to find work in the many theme park motels in central Florida, Cononie said.