People: Jess Peacock helps the homeless find their voice

Erica Thompson

Jess Peacock has a question for Columbus residents to ponder when encountering those in the community who find themselves homeless.

"Do we really care about those within our culture, within our country, who simply are lost economically?"

Many of us see these less fortunate men and women on a daily basis. Among those who approach us for money, there are some who have a product to offer in return: The Street Speech newspaper, which has been published by the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) since 2008.

"We are a publication with a purpose," said Peacock who has been the editor of the paper for three years. "That purpose is for people who are homeless or formerly homeless to earn, if not a living, some form of financial stability."

CCH is licensed by the city to, in turn, license Street Speech vendors. The vendors are interviewed, trained and given badges. They purchase the paper for 35 cents, sell it for an amount of their choice – usually $1 – and keep the profit. They are essentially running their own businesses, not begging.

"They are no more panhandling than the hot dog vendor on the street," Peacock said. "They're out there in the cold. They're out there in the rain. They're out there in the heat. They're working hard. We have some vendors who sell upwards of a thousand papers a month."

There are about 60 vendors distributing Street Speech to a circulation of approximately 10,000. The publication is funded by grants and donations. "Sometimes it can be difficult to keep our heads above water," Peacock said. When the paper was in danger of folding at the end of last year, he reached out to the media to spread awareness. "We ended up getting a wonderful amount of donations to keep us going."

Beyond providing income opportunities for the homeless, Peacock wants Street Speech to be an interesting read. So he, along with volunteer writers, produces pieces on poverty, family homelessness, LGBT youth homelessness, post-incarceration re-entry into the community and other socioeconomic issues. The paper also includes work from vendors who participate in a writer's workshop, held each Friday.

Peacock shared that some pieces have brought him to tears, and some poetry has left him amazed. "And then we have people who just write very basic, and that's fine, too. But they're very talented," he said.

Therefore, by allowing vendors to tell their stories, Street Speech is also a platform that gives a "voice to the voiceless," Peacock explained.

To balance some of the more serious content, Peacock also includes articles that reference pop culture. "I wrote a piece on Marvel narratives and how they can be viewed as metaphors for the fight against oppression," he said.

One could say that Peacock is a bit of an expert at connecting pop culture to both socioeconomic issues and religion. While studying to get his master's degree in divinity at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio in Delaware, he wrote a thesis that explored religious iconography - the cross, holy water, etc. - and social justice themes within the western vampire sub-genre.

"The vampire hunter becomes a stand in for someone working within social justice, fighting against an oppressive force, which the vampire would represent." Peacock said. He used the Occupy Wall Street movement as an example. He eventually turned the thesis into a published book, "Such a Dark Thing: Theology of the Vampire Narrative."

Peacock enjoys using pop culture to get others interested in social justice work. "It turns on a lightbulb when they're able to see those narratives take place, and it helps give them … some sort of concrete, tactile emotional connection to a movement," he said.

For now, Peacock fulfills his passion for social justice through Street Speech.

"It comes with its share of headaches … but I just love it," he said. "I get to hang around with vendors, and I get to write and lay out a paper. There's worse jobs to have."

About Jess Peacock

  • Age: 44
  • Day job: Editor at "Street Speech"
  • Hometown: Polk, Ohio
  • Current neighborhood: SoHud
  • Currently listening to: Anti-Flag
  • Favorite restaurant in Columbus: Toss up between Mad Mex and Whole World
  • Favorite movie: "The Matrix"
  • Favorite TV show: "Broad City"
  • What are you into and what are you over? Into "The Black Panther" by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Over "bea." Please just stop saying it.