Alastair Boone is the editor-in-chief of a publication aiming to empower its target population. Street Spirit is a San Francisco Bay Area-based homeless advocacy newspaper. Local un- housed residents run the paper, which was founded in 1995.
During a visit to San Quentin last May, Boone shared her story and explained that under her direction Street Spirit will continue to grow. The native San Franciscan said she’d like to end the prison-to street-to prison cycle. “I watched the people on the street grow exponentially. It’s impossible to ignore,” said Street Spirit’s new leader.
Boone visited San Quentin News where she volunteers as an advisor for the newspaper’s magazine, Wall City. During a question and answer session, Boone shared the experience, insight and knowledge she gleaned during her career.
Boone’s story begins with her roots in the Bay Area. The 25-year-old received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Creative Writing from University of California, Berkeley in 2016. The following year, she relocated to the East Coast to begin her journalistic career with Atlantic Media’s City Lab in Washington D.C.
Boone wanted to make a “journalistic impact,” but she found her responsibilities at City Lab impersonal and dull, so she came home. Boone’s return coincided with new owner- ship at Street Spirit. Soon after changing hands, Street Spirit’s editor-in-chief, Terry Mess- man, announced his retirement.
Boone took on the position as the paper’s first female editor-in-chief. As the paper’s only full-time employee, Boone works as a voice for what she described as an under-resourced—and expanding—population. “I have big shoes to fill,” said the new editor-in-chief.
As a new editor, Boone wanted more experience. A colleague recommended she volunteer for the San Quentin News. At SQ’s news office, she quickly discovered the similarities between SQ News, Street Spirit and the communities they serve.
Both communities are disenfranchised and marginalized; both contain unheard voices, she said. “Incarcerated people have the same issues as the homeless,” she told a full classroom.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, former inmates are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.
The similarities became concrete when Boone said she discovered major flaws in the Alameda County’s homeless count. On the annual count of Oakland’s homeless population Boone spent an early morning looking un- successfully for un-housed people in the winter cold. She couldn’t find a single home- less person to count, despite knowing they lived in the neighborhood she patrolled.
“How is this possible, especially in a city where its high-visibility homelessness problem was recently designated a humanitarian crisis by the United Nations?” she asked.
Boone described discrepancies in the way the home- less are counted and how methods vary within government agencies. She stressed the need for accuracy between federal groups like HUD and local groups such as Alameda County’s census takers which takes census called the Point in Time Count.
Boone believes this count, which happens every two years, “must unify the definition of homelessness and in- sure the accuracy of data gathered by each group,” she said.
Accuracy becomes her focus as the counts influence budget allocations to homelessness outreach groups throughout the Bay Area. “There is no doubt the homeless are under- counted in every region of the United States,” said Boone.
During her tenure at Street Spirit, Boone has learned 80% of the Bay Area’s homeless who were priced out of the market or who had become victim of the dotcom sprawl, were tenants or homeowners themselves, living in homes up to five years earlier. She also agreed that approximately 60-65,000 San Franciscans live in their vehicles.
Her strategic plan for the growth of Street Spirit includes securing a new distribution partner for the paper in Oakland while increasing her staff. She is also partnering with web creator Design Action Collective to build a web site for Street Spirit. These objectives are in line with her vi- sion to become a “go-to” news source for homelessness news.
“A robust web site is critical to reaching this goal,” she told SQ News.
Another long-term vision includes initiating a writing workshop where unhoused people can come to process the stories they want to tell. She believes the people in her workshop will gain confidence in their ability to communicate in writing.
Her goals also include the creation of a San Quentin Style newsroom, a goal that for now seems like a “dream world” away.
“We are fortunate to be in one of the most progressive regions in the world, and I believe we will not turn a deaf ear to this epidemic,” said Boone.
Becoming one of the nation’s leading advocates for the homeless, Boone hopes to give the population a platform for safe affordable housing, while affording them the dignity to re-evolve back into society.
“This is the city I live in. I’m going to take responsibility,” she said.