Final Issue? Nashville’s Homeless Newspaper On The Brink Of Collapse

Don Nash says he's sold The Contributor for two years at the same spot on Broadway. He has regular customers, including a man who gave him $50 on Monday. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Don Nash says he’s sold The Contributor for two years at the same spot on Broadway. He has regular customers, including a man who gave him $50 on Monday. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Nashville’s homeless newspaper could soon print its final edition. It needs an influx of cash to stay afloat through year’s end.

The Contributor’s sales force of 400 was informed Wednesday the next issue could be the last. And the newest paper has a headline that asks, “Final Issue?”

“If there wasn’t no Contributor, I’d be in one pickle,” says Don Nash, who has been selling the paper for two years. “I guess I’d be resorted to flying a dern sign, as much as I’d hate to do something like that.”

Roughly half of the vendors who hawk The Contributor on street corners from downtown to the suburbs remain homeless and use the paper as a way temporary source of income. But others like Nash have been able to get off the streets by selling the paper.

“This is my job,” Eileen Santos says.

She started selling the paper while sleeping at the Nashville Rescue Mission.

“And now, I’ve almost stayed in my apartment for two years,” she says.

They sell copies for a dollar after buying them for a quarter, a model that is used by streetpapers around the world.

But 25 cents only covers about half the cost of publishing the paper, says founder Tasha French Lemley. That’s how The Contributor can be in a financial pinch even with a circulation of 100,000 a month. It remains one of the most popular streetpapers in the country.

“We’re scared,” Lemley says. “This has been a precious project, and it’s been embraced in almost every way. That’s why my hope is that it’s a misunderstanding.”

Just buying a bunch of copies isn’t enough, she says. The Contributor needs direct donations too.

Several groups have already committed to stepping up their giving, including the Frist Foundation. But Lemley says more sustained commitments are needed.

“We can’t live in a state of crisis,” Lemley says.

The Contributor has made friends in high places. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean spoke at the paper’s recent anniversary party. At the prospect of failure, Dean says in a statement that he hopes for survival.

“Supporting Nashville citizens as they move toward self-sufficiency is an important part of what we do as a community,” he says. “The Contributor has been a creative force in that effort since its inception.”

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