A Voice in the Square: Spare Change News

Spare Change News’ connection to Harvard goes beyond the newspaper’s location.

The face of Harvard Square is ever-changing, and stores and eateries open and close with breakneck speed. The effervescent voice at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Dunster St., however, remains the same. For the last 25 years, Gregory H. Daugherty has been a boisterous Square fixture.

Daugherty is a local vendor selling Spare Change News, a biweekly newspaper published by the Homeless Empowerment Project. Produced at the heart of Harvard Square in the basement of Old Cambridge Baptist Church, the newspaper is dedicated to issues of homelessness and social advocacy. It is designed to give its low-income vendors a chance to earn their own money: Vendors buy the newspapers from the company for 50 cents and then sell them for two dollars.

Around campus, Daugherty is something of a celebrity. He was friends with Matt Damon ’92 and even briefly appeared in Damon’s movie “Good Will Hunting,” according to Samuel Weems, distributional manager of Spare Change News. Daugherty confirms his affinity with Harvard students: “They love me. We get along just fine. After all, I saw them grow up—they come here as children and leave as adults.”

Daugherty says students constitute a large part of the newspaper’s readership. “We see a big boost in our sales when students are around, and summers can get a little lean for us,” Alejandro Ramirez, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, echoes.

Daugherty says that selling for “Spare Change News” has changed his life, allowing him to “survive by himself.” He enjoys working in the Square and interacting with the public—he feels like he’s part of a community. “They look out for me, and I look out for them,” Daugherty says.

Spare Change News’ connection to Harvard goes beyond the newspaper’s location. This year, several Harvard Law School students partnered with the publication’s former executive director, Katherine Bennett, to compile a legal handbook for vendors. Ramirez said that the playbook includes “information to recite and assert the vendor’s right to be there.”

Spare Change News’ other tie to Harvard is through The Crimson, which printed the fledgling newspaper during its first three years.

Shearer co-founded Spare Change News in 1992 along with Tim Harris and Tim Hobson. Shearer says the paper was created for two reasons: “We wanted to empower ourselves—instead of waiting on the powers that be to give us funding so that we can get off the street, we do it ourselves. And we wanted to give homeless people a voice.”

In the 25 years since its founding, the paper has had to adapt to a changing journalism landscape. Traditionally a print publication, Spare Change has been increasing its online presence, now offering a digital subscription for $49.99 a year. A portion of the subscription “defrays the cost of our vendor’s papers,” according to the publication’s website.

Ramirez anticipates even more changes for the future. “Our vendors have been very dedicated, but they are starting to age. They’re still as dedicated to this organization as anyone can be, but we’re wondering, how do we expand ourselves, not just geographically, but demographically,” Ramirez says. He also hopes that the biweekly publication becomes weekly and “more ambitious in terms of the types of issues we put out.”

Shearer emphasizes that the paper’s central goals have remained fixed. “Educating the public and empowering homeless people— we’ve never really gotten away from that,” he says. Another, bigger goal is eliminating homelessness altogether: “I hope we get to a day when we don’t need the paper.”