On a crisp December morning, Carolyn Huckabey stood talking to a man on Chapel Street, both of them grinning ear to ear, as if in cahoots about an inside joke. When I approached, the man turned to me and exclaimed, “How could you not love her!”
Asked how long she had known the man, Huckabey replied that she had never seen him in her life.
Huckabey is a vendor for the Elm City Echo, a journal that aims to advance the economic security and self-expression of city residents facing extreme poverty and homelessness. Most days, she stands on Chapel Street, inviting passer-by to purchase the Echo with her signature phrase, “Yale Hunger Homeless Project, good afternoon!”
Asked if she had ever contributed to the Echo, Huckabey immediately began reciting one of her poems, “I’m lost in a world with no way out / No one could find me / Not even a friend.”
Huckabey, who previously worked at a U.S. Surgical Corp. factory, was born and raised in New Haven. As a child, she developed a passion for art, often creating comic book characters. She still leaves drawings for her mother when she goes to visit. During a period of homelessness in 2003, Huckabey became involved with No Closed Doors, a branch of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, a campus organization dedicated to mitigating the effects of poverty in the Elm City. She began as an Echo vendor in 2011, the same year the publication was launched.
She said her clientele is composed of both regulars and one-time purchasers. For the most part, she said, she receives positive feedback. Still, passers-by often ignore her, and days rarely go by without negative remarks.
“I don’t let it get me down,” she said. “I smile, hold my head up and be strong.”
Another YHHAP offshoot, the Echo is New Haven’s only street publication. It relies on a microenterprise business model, wherein vendors, all of whom are residents facing economic problems, sell the $1 pamphlet on the street, returning $0.25 to the Echo for printing fees and pocketing the rest.
“We don’t want to make it about Yale students,” said Maddy Batt ’19, one of the Echo’s co-coordinators. “It’s important that we keep our identity as something centered on the writers.”
Twice a year, approximately 10 student volunteers visit local homeless shelters, such as Columbus House and Fellowship Place, to field material for the Echo. Some residents already have stories they want to share; others are inspired to come up with one; and some choose to dictate their contributions to an Echo volunteer, according to Batt.
The Yalies who help run the Echo return to the shelters a week later for an editing session with the writers. After that, the student-led team takes the reins, running the stories through a big copy-editing session, adding illustrations by undergraduate graphic designers and sending the issue to press.
The program offers $10 for each story, for up to two stories a semester, to those willing to lend their voices to the journal. Batt said some residents participate in the program solely for the money, though many writers enjoy expressing themselves and continue writing even after they publish two stories. She described one woman who has shared many memories from her personal history, from singing as a young girl to meeting her future husband in a homeless shelter.
Much of the Echo’s content is life stories. The fall 2014 edition featured a story by a woman named Kecia, titled “This is my life,” in which she described losing her 8-year-old daughter to a fire that also burned down her house.
“It’s incredible how open they are and willing to share,” Batt said.
On the sales side, participation in the Echo is sparser. Batt admitted that Huckabey is their only consistent vendor at the moment, citing the difficulty of recruiting from a pool of people who already face serious financial difficulties. For some, being able to spare the time and energy to sell the Echo is a luxury.
Huckabey said she is grateful for her opportunity.
“I like being out in the open,” she said. “It’s so important to learn different behaviors and different attitudes — and I know how to talk to people. Some people have bad days, and I turn that around.”
Brianna Wu | firstname.lastname@example.org