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00000181-fa79-da89-a38d-fb7f2b910000KUOW is joining forces with other Seattle media outlets to highlight the homeless crisis in the city and region on Wednesday, June 29, 2017.The effort was modeled after a collaboration by more than 70 San Francisco outlets to focus a day of news attention on the issue and possible solutions.Read more about the Seattle project and check out our coverage below. Follow the city's coverage by using #SeaHomeless.HighlightsThe Jungle: an ongoing coverage project going into the notorious homeless encampment under Interstate 5.Ask Seattle's Homeless Community: KUOW is launching a Facebook group where anyone may ask a question about homelessness, but only people who have experienced it may answer. This was inspired by a recent event KUOW co-presented with Seattle Public Library and Real Change, where residents of the Jungle answered audience questions. No End In Sight: an award-winning investigative project from KUOW about King County's 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Seattle's Real Change Newspaper Impresses With Pay App

Robert Surles sells Real Change, Seattle's homeless paper, at First Avenue and Yesler Way.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Stewart
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Robert Surles sells Real Change, Seattle's homeless paper, at First Avenue and Yesler Way.

Robert Surles is out on First Avenue and Yesler Way every day.

He’s selling Real Change, Seattle’s homeless newspaper.

Surles has his regulars. He keeps a football in an empty newspaper stand to toss to a man who walks by. And he looks out for the two husky dogs who visit him on their daily walk.

“I love the people,” he said.

These interactions don’t take place only on Seattle street corners. There are more than 100 newspapers around the world sold by people who are homeless.

Some of the people behind those so-called “street sheets” are in Seattle this week for the Global Street Paper Summit. The International Network of Street Papers, a Glasgow-based organization made up of 115 homeless newspapers from 35 countries, chose Real Change to host its first-ever U.S. conference.

One of the reasons: Seattle’s homeless newspaper has been a real innovator when it comes to digital payments.

Earlier this year, Real Change partnered with Google to launch a smartphone payment app. Now, for the first time, customers can buy a copy without going to an ATM.

Maree Aldam, CEO of the international group, says that's important for keeping up with what customers want. “What we’re trying to do now is, rather than fear the digital world, we’re trying to embrace everything that it has to offer,” she said.

Vendors in the city have been using the payment app since April. Customers can scan a code on a vendor’s badge to download the app and buy the paper from there.

Tim Harris, Real Change’s founder, says embracing the digital age is just a tool for the real goal of newspapers like his.

“People go from being isolated, stigmatized, homeless individuals who don’t have a lot of experience of community in their lives to operating within this supportive community with people who care about them,” Harris said. “I mean, it’s more than just about buying the paper, it’s about getting to know people and forming relationships.”

The conference is in Seattle through Friday.