Introducing the Challenger News

Diya D'Souza, Staff Writer

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When homeless advocate Val Romness heard about a local street newspaper fizzling out, she decided to take over the newspaper, The Challenger, herself and bring it back to life with the help of a staff of the homeless all around Austin.

The Challenger is an Austin-based newspaper with homeless writers, contributors and distributors. While the Challenger employs a unique staff, the paper is similar to any other newsletter with opinion pieces, art, ads, obituaries, joke columns and informational resources for its readers. Romness spends several hours twice a week working with her staff and spends her nights putting together the layout of the paper. Her main goal is to empower local homeless people.

“People who are on the street feel invisible and so I wanted to help them get independence, so they can buy their own lunch so they don’t have to stand in a food line,” Romness said. “The people on the street who have been out there for years are so pushed down by society and they’re unable to get out of homelessness, so I am just trying to empower them.”

Romness works with a unique demographic of writers. She decided to make her staff of writers 95% homeless so that she could give a voice to a population that isn’t often heard. According to Romness, she hopes to empower them and raise their morale.

“Writing raises their self-esteem and increases their literacy, and increases their dignity,” Romness. “They feel like they are heard, and when they go out and distribute the paper they can tell people about it. To a group of people who have been silent so much, it is very powerful to watch them get stronger and work through their issues of why they’re homeless and prepare them for being housed or giving another more traditional job.”

Jesse Griener is a staff writer for The Challenger. He has been writing for the paper for several years, and says that writing for the paper has changed his life.
“It opened up my horizons,” Griener said. “It’s a good starting point and it helps sell papers. It gives me an outlet to speak my mind. It gives me a way to make money, and do good for my community.”

The local organizer of a convention of independent publishers called Zine Fest, Jennifer Hecker said that it is important to give all people a voice. Hecker found out about the paper in 2018 when The Challenger applied to participate in the Zine Fest for the first time.

“The Lone Star Zine Fest’s mission is to reveal to the local community the breadth and variety of self-published work being created here in Central Texas, and elsewhere,” Hecker said. “The Challenger is a collaborative project, rooted in the DIY ethic. It empowers folks by centering their voices and creates a positive space for a collaborative enterprise. While some may argue that the paper is not a zine, I believe that its mission is closely aligned with zine culture.”

The Challenger not only gives empowerment to the homeless but also gives them a way to earn money. After a writer is published in the newspaper, they are given papers to hand out and sell. The papers are sold to the distributors for fifty cents and the distributors, who are also homeless writers for the paper, charge two dollars per paper.
The Challenger is available in the editorial section of public libraries, on their website or via a subscription.