Free and Custom Flyers as a Lightweight Economic Development Tool

While homeless, I began making money online doing freelance writing via a service. I sometimes talked with someone online who really needed some income and I would recommend the service to them.

They would try it and not get why it was a good thing and not really understand how it worked. So I ended up writing kind of a quick start guide to try to explain to people why this service, Textbroker, was a good way to make some money flexibly and how to get the most out of it.

I eventually got off the street by moving into a hundred-year-old SRO. The manager of the building graciously allows me to post the following flyer in the building:

Click here to open the Write Pay Flyer

The red oval marks "excess" page below the tabs section. I typically cut that off before clipping the tabs apart so the tabs aren't overly long.

But it means there is enough room that you could customize this flyer by adding more information above the pull-off tabs section. For example, if you wanted to say Join us weekly on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the local library for our self-help micro enterprise group!, there is room to do that on this flyer.

When I first moved in, this building saw a lot of visits by the police. If it was a Friday night, you could bet that someone was having a loud fight. You could smell drugs all the time, but you rarely smelled food cooking.

The longer I have lived here, the more you smell food cooking, the less the police come visit and so forth. My little flyer is no doubt far from the only reason this building has changed so much, but I think it is a factor.

If you are broke and don't know where your next dollar is coming from, tempers get short. For poor people, relatively ready access to a little supplemental income can make a big difference in their lives.

Textbroker is something you can do from just about anywhere in the US as long as you have some means to get online. So if you are in a small community, this is a potential means to help locals start accessing supplemental income without any additional infrastructure. You just need to get the word out and you can use a flyer to do that.

Since December 2018, the local Police Department has been supplied with a different flyer by me. I've also passed out various flyers a few times to some of the local non-profits, but I haven't really had any follow-up with any of those.

I do get some follow-up with the flyers in my building because I see the tabs get torn off and I put up new ones periodically when all the tabs are gone. I also have been assured by the local Chief of Police that not only do they hand out my flyers at the jailhouse, they have copies of them in all the squad cars.

I emailed the Chief of Police a few months back to say "Hey, I updated the flyer a while back. I thought I would run into you at a meeting and mention it there, but now all meetings have been cancelled due to the pandemic. I just want you to know it has more info and you should make sure you are using the latest version."

He replied and copied a couple of his officers to make sure they got the links and the word that it was updated and they should use the updated version henceforth. So the best information I have indicates the local Police Department is still using my flyer.

This general area has been a relative oasis of calm during the pandemic, nationwide protests and so forth throughout 2020. I can't prove that there is any kind of a cause-and-effect relationship between my flyer and that fact, but I think there is some relationship there.

It's a very lightweight means for the police to point the most destitute towards some self-help. So I think it hits just the right note of being somewhat helpful -- instead of callous and uncaring -- without encouraging the recipient to expect to be rescued.

Below is an edited version of what I have given to my local Police Department. Theirs has a paragraph or two at the bottom with locally relevant information that I am not interested in publishing on the internet.

Click here to open the flyer
Useful Websites For Homeless Individuals

Because I removed the local info, there is space for one to two paragraphs at the bottom for customizing this flyer (marked by a red oval in the above image). You could do that for free by copying and pasting this into another doc and adding local information yourself.

This is a single page, which means the back is blank. If you are using this as a handout rather than a posting to a bulletin board, you could go nuts and do two-sided printing and fill the back with all kinds of additional info.

Please keep the reference at the bottom of the page indicating the source is, but you could certainly add something like "Customized by (your name or organization)." or "Local info added by (you/your org)."

Some good information to include:
  • Information about the local library.
  • Information about public transit.
  • Other "self help" type information.
I do not recommend that you include information on this flyer about local soup kitchens and other freebies of that sort. This flyer is intended to foster self-help and empower homeless people to take control of their lives by taking responsbility for their own destiny.

Making information about local soup kitchens and other free stuff for homeless individuals too readily available can be an attractive nuisance. It can just help bring homeless individuals to your area who are looking to freeload.

I think it is not a best practice to mix together the kind of information on these flyers with information about where to get free meals and the like. I think for psychological reasons, those two types of information should be kept somewhat separate.

Local non-profits where I live do not seem as excited to get this information as my local Police Department has seemed. The police seemed enthused to get it and have been happy to follow-up with me.

The difference in reaction is likely due to the Shirky Principle:
Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.
In other words, local homeless services do not really want to get rid of the homeless because then the homeless services organizations have no reason to exist. This means the people who work there would no longer be needed and would need to get a different job.

In contrast, the local police department would be thrilled to pieces if the local homeless problem was actually resolved (or mostly resolved) because it's just a pain in their butt and they will continue to have jobs even if all the homeless get their act together and get back into housing. You don't need homeless people around to need a police department.

The above flyers have a proven track record and have been updated and further developed since their initial conception. The changes I have made have been informed by experience on the ground with interacting with people, including some of the local homeless people.

In addition to the time I spent on the street, I have had a college class on Homelessness and Public Policy and I continue to write about homelessness to this day. So I'm something of a Subject Matter Expert on the topic.

If you want professional assistance with developing an effective flyer for your area, I would be happy to do a little research about your area and add some custom information to this flyer for a fee.

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