When I first moved from Australia to the Mission in 2014, I arrived at the epicenter of a 21st century Gold Rush created by the tech boom. I was a prospector myself, an immigrant drawn to the glittering work opportunities of the Bay Area. The income inequality on the streets was shocking. Heroin users and start-up kings compacted into an archipelago of absolute privilege and extreme poverty.
Entrepreneurship was synonymous with Silicon Valley, but the commerce that caught my eye was the sidewalk sales. Laid out on blankets and sheets was the inventory of San Francisco’s other entrepreneurial class: the recyclers, dumpster-divers, and second-hand traders whose livelihood came from turning someone else’s trash—bottles, cans, e-waste, second-hand sex toys, and stuff you’d never imagine—into cash. If necessity is the mother of invention, here was the motherlode.
The hustle and heart of these street entrepreneurs was addictive. I started hanging out with a group of pro-recyclers and pretty soon I was dumpster-diving at night and documenting how the rusty levers of this shadow economy worked. As folks shared their stories, struggles, and dreams, my own mission emerged: to shine a light on the lives of people in this overlooked economy, and in turn inspire people to reconsider what is seen as trash and what is treasure. For years, I documented stories from the street, and my magazine “Mission Gold” was born.
MISSION GOLD (2015–2023) is a photojournalism series and independent magazine exploring street entrepreneurship, creativity, and courage on the streets of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. By partnering with Street Sheet—San Francisco’s street newspaper—to distribute Mission Gold, I joined forces with an inspired publication not only deeply invested in homeless advocacy, but with a street sales program already in place.
In 2017, I printed issue 001: MONEY: Haircuts, Beercans and Rockstar Bartering, took the boxes up to the Coalition on Homelessness offices, and handed out copies to Street Sheet vendors dropping by to pick up the latest issue. Basically Mission Gold was a free bonus; whatever the vendors sold the magazine for, they would keep 100% of the proceeds. The idea that the ‘gold’ I mined from the streets put cash back in the hands of the community I was featuring is hugely important to the project.
Published in mid-2018, MISSION GOLD issue 002: MAGIC: Mayan Talismans, Tropical Storms and Alien Archaeology, unearthed more imaginative and metaphysical layers of street life; masterpieces painted on Perspex, modern-day shamanism, and evidence of alien hieroglyphics gathered by homeless archaeologists.
In partnership with Street Sheet the third and final issue of Mission Gold – MISFITS: Trash Detectives, Somali Pirates & Superbugs hits the streets of San Francisco on March 01, 2023. Issue 003 is five years of street life puzzled together to create a psychogeography of the Mission neighborhood—an 88-page portrait exploring the relationships between people and the environment in which they live. The raw material is literally the word on the street—interviews, stories, anecdotes and urban legends brewed into a moonshine of fact and fiction. Street Sheet vendors will be selling it in San Francisco until it sells out, with the recommended price being $15 and all proceeds going to Street Sheet vendors.
My hope is that through reading Mission Gold, people remember that curiosity and compassion are the currencies that count most, and that people—whether they’re a millionaire or mining a dumpster—have valuable stories to tell.
Nick Marzano is the Founder and Editor of Mission Gold. This article was originally published in Street Sheet. To find out more visit Instagram: @mission.gold, or the website at www.mission.gold.com.