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Feb 2002 / media shoegaze :: email this story to a friend

Whats Up Magazine Hits
the Streets

By Gianni Gardiner

You will probably see him as just another homeless person. You'll probably notice her outstretched arms before realizing what she offers. You could remember that you do not want to give up your change from lunch before understanding what you would receive in return. You might just see him as another face of the city's 15,000 homeless. But you would be dead wrong. They are vendors for St. Louis' newest alternative, monthly magazine, combining entertainment with social awareness — Whats Up.

Whats Up with the missing apostrophe? The only reason you might recognize the vendors as homeless is because most of them are homeless. Eager and proud to serve their city a fresh helping of journalism, Whats Up vendors will be major players in our vision to create a forum of expression that represents the concerns experienced by more than 15,000 homeless individuals in our city. Whats Up vendors will be seen downtown, near your place of business, perhaps sparking a lunchtime conversation while selling you an investment that is more than just a magazine.

Whats Up Magazine serves as a community-based media source. Our readers can expect content that combines social awareness and local arts and entertainment, in a way that encourages the entire, diverse population of Greater St. Louis to be socially conscious. In addition to giving an honest perspective of homeless people in the pages, the reading audience is exposed to regular coverage of homelessness and related national, state, and local issues, including but not limited to employment, health care, living wages, housing, social services and civil rights. We're not going to beat you over the head with all that is wrong without a way to get involved. Whats Up provides opportunities for our readers to volunteer and participate in the movement to end homelessness in America.

Step one:
Unite students, community members and area homeless to create a magazine that brings awareness to issues directly affecting the homeless and disadvantaged communities of St. Louis.

Whats Up is a project two years in the making. Students from Washington University, local community members and some dedicated homeless have been working to create this grassroots organization. Throughout the year, we have conducted interviews with prominent hip-hop artists and spent hours discussing the concepts of organizational structure, empowerment and homeless ownership, all on a shoestring budget wearing thin. In partnership with St. Peter and Paul Community Services and Christ Church Cathedral, we have begun training the men and women who will become vendors, writers and production assistants of the magazine. To handle these tasks requires organization and coordination, and to accomplish that one needs a dedicated leader.

Jay Swoboda Whats Up certainly has that in Jay Swoboda, our founder/publisher/editor-in-chief. Swoboda has come to be known by many as the face of Whats Up in St. Louis. A senior at Washington University, Swoboda came across the concept after meeting Aaron Goldstein, the founder of Whats Up Magazine in Boston, while serving with SCA/AmeriCorps in Western Massachusetts. His dedication to service earned him the Stern Summer Service Scholarship, giving him the opportunity to invest more time and effort into the paperwork and production required to put together the foundation of the magazine. Working tirelessly on promotion of the magazine, as well as attending to his editorial duties, Swoboda is a full-time student and clocks time to pay the bills as the wine steward of the St. Louis Melting Pot.

Step two:
Bring the magazine into the streets of St. Louis to give people a more complete picture of our city and an outlet to express ways that anyone can get involved.

The mission statement, found at, states:

"To empower men and women who are homeless or at risk of being so, as they work toward gaining empowerment and self-sufficiency. Whats Up organizes, educates and builds alliances to connect community-based solutions to homelessness and poverty by comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable."

Clearly, this renegade magazine has a vision to involve the entire St. Louis community, and this is how the community gets involved. Hitting the streets February 1, the magazine is produced in partnership with the homeless of St. Louis. More than just another magazine, Whats Up is a vehicle for social change.

Vendors are required to attend a vendor training session that lays out the ground rules for selling the publication. Once the magazine is off the press, we should get used to the sight of Whats Up in the hands of not just the socially conscious, but also in the hands of the soon-to-be socially conscious in St. Louis.

Homelessness is a problem. Nationally, on any given night, close to two million people go to bed in the streets, and there is not one area, urban or rural, that is untouched.

  • 37% of homeless families are denied shelter due to the fact that there are not enough beds.

  • 25% of the homeless population is now children, and 1.35 million children experience homelessness over the course of the year.

  • 44% of homeless adults worked at least part-time the previous month.

While these national statistics are alarming, we see the establishment of a street publication in St. Louis as a way of educating the general public about the root causes of homelessness and its solutions. These are issues that everyone needs to be aware of. And that is the job of Whats Up — to reach out to the St. Louis community as a whole, educate them about social problems that surround them every day, and, perhaps most importantly, give St. Louis an avenue to make a difference. We are not asking for much: the cover price for Whats Up is $1.00. So, let's do the math. A dollar a month or twelve bucks a year is all we're asking, nine of which goes right into the vendor's pocket. Subscriptions are available for the going rate of $15 a year.

Step three:
Watch people get involved and begin to care about the change they effect in their own community.

Whats Up is dedicated to helping the community create positive solutions for problems assailing people living in poverty. As we address the needs of the disadvantaged community in our content, so will we address the need of the community as a whole to get involved.

Whats Up poses a challenge, and the creators of the magazine believe that St. Louis is well prepared to accept that challenge. This Valentine's Day, when you walk by that vendor on the street, take a chance. Don't just walk away or avoid his eye. Whats Up invites you to open your eyes and your heart to what our city can become, one magazine at a time.

Gianni Gardiner is a staff writer and volunteer for Whats Up. She is a St. Louis native, an environmental activist and a Washington University junior.

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