HOD student Whitley O’Connor is creating jobs for the homeless
Whitley O’Connor never imagined his educational experience would include learning expressions like “flying a sign,” slang for a person who is chronically homeless who stands on a corner with a handwritten cardboard sign asking for help. It’s considered in homeless communities a step above panhandling.
Those kinds of terms have become part of the vocabulary of the senior majoring in human and organizational development and sociology.
He is spearheading the launch of the Curbside Chronicle, a magazine sold by the homeless population in Oklahoma City, with a goal of transitioning homeless individuals back into mainstream society.
During Jim Schorr’s social enterprise course, O’Connor mentioned that his hometown might benefit from a publication similar to The Contributor in Nashville. With Schorr’s guidance, O’Connor soon found himself part of a team shaping a business plan for the venture.
By summer 2013, O’Connor was using his Ingram Scholarship Summer Program stipend for the launch. Along with co-founder Ranya Forgotson, a University of Oklahoma student, he is working on site to get the business off the ground as part of his fall HOD internship.
Like The Contributor, Curbside Chronicle vendors go through training, sign a code of conduct and purchase copies to sell on street corners. About half the content is about social issues and is written by the homeless.
The remainder of the content includes local interest stories by a variety of writers. An early problem was volume. Even with just 10 initial vendors, the press run of 2,000 quickly ran out and O’Connor was scrambling to get more copies printed affordably.
“I can’t have vendors standing around. This is their job. If I don’t want them out there flying a sign—I’ve got to get a product in their hands,” he said.
O’Connor is committed to getting the program running smoothly by the end of the semester. “I see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.