The July 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Oakland Youth Organize

Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

Food Bank Helps Ease Hunger

Food Bank Keeps Growing

San Diego's Economic Cleansing

Psychiatric Abuse and Repression

Transit Activists Win Victory

Technology for the Poor

Violent Arrest at City Hall

The Dream of People's Park

New Richmond Shelter to Open

Street Spirit Vendor Tony McNair

Bush's Tax Cuts for the Rich

Corporate Benedict Arnolds

Rain Lane's Photographs

"Say Something" A Short Story

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Tony McNair, Street Spirit Vendor for a Decade

by Janny Castillo, BOSS

Tony McNair, an activist and Street Spirit vendor for the past 10 years, is losing his sight. Janny Castillo photo

Today, Tony McNair is inside. Even while he was still living on the streets, Tony was a committed advocate, trying to help build a homeless movement in the Bay Area. Now, he has a bed at the Berkeley Emergency Food and Housing Project. Our interview took place at the BOSS Multi-Agency Service Center (MASC) at the Veteran's Building in Berkeley.

Tony was raised in foster care; he left home at the age of 15. He wanted to get out and see the world for himself, to experience it like his mother told him to.
This story starts with an ending that Tony could not have seen nor prepared himself for when his journey in life began. Very quietly and with absolute seriousness, Tony shared what he is going through. "There are only two things I miss: my mother and my eyesight."

Tony has been a homeless advocate since the early 1980s. In those days, the Bay Area police were especially abusive. Among other things, they would tell the homeless, regardless of color, where they could and could not sleep. Tony made it his job to educate the homeless on what their rights were. He helped turn abandoned houses into homes for homeless women and children.

In the late 1980s, Tony helped organize the Oakland and San Francisco chapters of the National Union of the Homeless. Later, he moved to Berkeley to help Curtis Bray mobilize the homeless community. Together they taught homeless rights and organized rallies to insure those rights.

He became a Street Spirit vendor in the mid-1990s. The selling of the paper became crucial in helping him get to medical appointments, to see his relatives, to get to interviews and, more importantly, to raise enough money to continue his advocacy work. Tony will tell you Street Spirit sells very well at rallies and demonstrations.

He has met many interesting people while selling the Street Spirit. He knows people in radio, music production and lyric writing. His customers include doctors, lawyers and even policemen. "The majority of my customers love Street Spirit," Tony said. "It is not misleading; it is very informative and has articles on a variety of subjects. Some like reading Street Spirit just for the poetry; it gives them the opportunity to stay in touch with the plight of homeless people in the Bay Area."

He has met and sold his paper to Green Party members, Barbara Lubin from Middle East Children's Alliance, and Michael Franti, a famed local rap artist.

Tony has been homeless since 1983. "I've been living here and there. Some of the Berkeley store owners let me sleep in their doorways as long as I keep it neat and clean." Tony is very grateful for the folks at Trinity Methodist Church who have been an integral part in helping him survive.

Most of his family members are deceased, except for three sisters who live close by. His immediate family is the staff and friends at Trinity and MASC. Tony has known boona cheema, BOSS's executive director for many, many years. He speaks highly of her, stating simply, "boona will sit and listen to me."

As if his life was not hard enough, Tony has been going blind for over a year. The doctors told him he has badly damaged nerves and a serious case of glaucoma. They also told him there is nothing they can do. "I deal with it like this," he said. "I walk by faith, not by sight."

He has much respect for Street Spirit. On really good days, Tony can sell 50 to 80 papers. "Street Spirit helps me buy food, do my laundry and make phone calls. It has been a really great help to me."

Before he lost his sight, the article that touched him most was the "Suicide of Mary Jesus," written by Terry Messman, Street Spirit editor. It was a story of a woman that had lost her housing and jumped from the Oakland Tribune Tower; a story that was hardly covered in the mainstream newspapers.

In closing, Tony said, "If I was a millionaire, I would donate all my money to Street Spirit and BOSS." We wouldn't want all your money, Tony, but Street Spirit and BOSS could use the help. Thanks for sharing your story. I guess it's our turn to be encouraged.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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Published by American Friends Service Committee

Editor : Terry Messman

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