Though panhandling has been illegal in Tampa for the past two weeks, beginning this week, some of the same people will be out selling newspapers and pocketing some of the cash.
Tampa Epoch, a new newspaper created by Bill Sharpe, publisher of the South Tampa Community News, is a way to keep the meager flow of income to the chronically poor and homeless. The first edition of the monthly paper has been written, laid out and designed, and was scheduled to go to the printer this past weekend, he said.
The content will include profiles of homeless people and details about agencies that offer help and services.
"We'll have (profiles of) a couple of homeless people currently out there, telling who they are and how they got where they are," he said, as well as stories about the agencies that help the poor. Some homeless will contribute stories, art or poetry, he said, and information about how to get help also will be included. That will include contact information for agencies that offer medical assistance and food.
Sharpe was miffed when the Tampa City Council outlawed panhandling in the city limits, but saw an opportunity when the city said it was OK to sell newspapers from street corners.
He hoped the first edition of monthly Tampa Epoch will hit the streets, literally, on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest, with about 50 hawkers already signed up to sell the tabloid. He hopes to sell 10,000 a month for $1 per issue.
His business plan calls for the vendors to get the first 25 newspapers free. Once they sell those papers and earn their first $25, they can buy more papers from Sharpe for a quarter each. Selling those papers for a dollar would bring the homeless vendors a profit of 75 cents for each paper.
He said he has recruited about half the 100 or so vendors he was hoping to get. But as the plan unfolds, he expects more to come forward.
"We have some people lined up," Sharpe said, "but it's difficult for them to move around town. For you and me, we just get into our car. For them, it's not so easy."
At a recent visit at a South Tampa church that feeds a couple of hundred homeless people each weekend, about 20 vendors signed up, he said.
Each vendor will wear a T-shirt and badge identifying him or her as a newspaper seller.
The new city ordinance bans solicitations on city roads except on Sundays, but exempts vendors selling newspapers.
Tampa Epoch will be tabloid size and have four sections totaling about 16 pages, Sharpe said. Some content will be provided by the staff of the South Tampa Community News. Sharpe said the target audience is not just the poverty-stricken, but people who care about the issue.
Advertising isn't as much as he had hoped for, he said, without divulging who the first-edition advertisers are.
"I'll let you see when it comes out," he said.
"We're going to make this happen," Sharpe said. "We are going to be a quality paper, informative and interesting as well as something that will help these people out."