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Some say there’s still hope for Streetwise

April 20, 2009 – By the time Bruce Crane went to bed on April 14, the survival of Streetwise magazine was in question.

But an overnight sudden injection of 40 online donations to the struggling non-profit organization had Crane believing otherwise.

“[If] you asked me two weeks ago would we do it? I’d say, ‘I’m pretty sure. I think I can. I think I can,” said Crane, executive director of Streetwise. “But with the outpouring I’ve felt in the last two days, yea, we will do it.”

Since 1992, Streetwise has enabled unemployed and homeless Chicagoans to support themselves by selling newspapers as vendors. And, if Streetwise does not raise new funding, the operation could be shutting its doors in about 40 days.

At the Chicago City Council’s Human Relations Committee meeting April 15, Ald. Billy Ocasic (27th) questioned Streetwise board members several times over the publication’s monthly operational costs.

Rob Federighi, current board president of Streetwise, explained the publication is dealing with declining revenue due to economy, sales and charitable support which has dropped from $200,000 to $65,000 a year.

According to its 2007 taxes, Streetwise reported over $280,000 in profits for 2007 however its operating budget was more than $541,000, as reported to GuideStar, an online database.

In 2008, the 16-year-old publication transitioned from a newspaper to magazine format, raising printing costs to 35 cents, allowing vendors to make a $1.25 profit.

Currently, 8,000 vendors are registered with Streetwise.

However, Federighi didn’t present exact current budget needs to the committee. He told the committee the organization would need $75,000 to move toward sustainability over the next three to four months.

Meanwhile, they have entered into negotiations with their landlord to reduce rent and space, the $75,000 salary for the executive director position has been eliminated and pushed to increase ad revenue.

Crane, who is working for free until July 1, is optimistic about the future of Streetwise, pointing to a $3,000 increase in advertisement revenue last month. But said the work is challenging but he’s not deterred.

“I’ve been involved with lots of charitable boards,” said Crane. “Streetwise doesn’t have any of that glamor. You’re on this board because you want to work and you’re going to be in the trenches, and there’s not a lot besides the personal reward of knowing you’ve made a difference.”

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