A VOICE for those struggling with poverty

Listen to the audio version of this article

When Elisabeth Monaghan applied to become managing editor of The Denver VOICE, she knew that, with her decades of communications experience, she could contribute plenty to the monthly publication for, and by, people experiencing homelessness and poverty.

What she didn't expect was how much those people could teach her.

A product of Catholic schools who earned a Master of Arts in Communications at Regis, Monaghan's broad experience includes working for Silicon Valley tech companies, editing an engineering publication and writing for neighborhood newspapers.

But The VOICE provided a whole different kind of experience. Part of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), The VOICE provides income for those struggling with housing instability. A current roster of about 100 vendors, down from a pre-pandemic high of 200, buy copies of the paper for 25 cents, then sell them throughout Denver for suggested donations of $2. "They keep the difference. They use it to buy groceries and other necessities," Monaghan said.

The pandemic forced The VOICE to shift focus, seeking grants and donations to help vendors when they could not sell papers. Monaghan credits Executive Director Jennifer Seybold with successfully steering The VOICE through that period.

As managing editor, Monaghan works with journalist contributors who often uncover important stories, many of which get picked up by Denver media. She has worked to raise The VOICE's news profile, tightened editorial standards, and pushed to feature news stories on its website, DenverVoice.org.

One thing that won't change:

Each issue offers opportunities for vendors to contribute. "We always have the 'Ask A Vendor'," feature, she said. Vendors also write "In Your Own Words" about their experiences.

The September issue featured a former vendor who now owns a landscaping company. Current vendors include a woman whose meth addiction upended her life. "She was at one of the [shelters] in Boulder and saw something about The VOICE. She signed up and hasn't looked back." That was about 15 years ago, Monaghan said.

The VOICE is not a service agency but does connect vendors with organizations that can help with everything from getting legal identification — many vendors don't have a driver's license — to being added to subsidized housing waiting lists. When needed, Monaghan said, "we can also introduce them to drug and alcohol counselors."

Monaghan said it wasn't a calling that led her to The VOICE, but something more practical. After a divorce altered her financial situation, she needed a second job. In the past, Monaghan said, "I would see the people selling the paper on the 16th Street Mall and I’d be very busy," looking away or rushing past vendors.

In two years with The VOICE, "I’ve learned so much," she said. "I’ve always known I’m very blessed, but it’s different when I see what these people are going through. One bad thing — a bad decision or an illness or a partner who is abusive — and it could be any of us."