Where are they now? Our vendors are facing different housing realities

Big Issue vendors are unable to sell the magazine while they are temporarily off the streets. Here four vendors tell their story from where they are in lockdown

Private renting: David Bailey, 50, Leicester railway station

Many of our vendors count themselves among the 4.5 million private renters in the UK.

That is the case for Leicester vendor David Bailey, who moved to the East Midlands city in 2017 from Reading in the hope that the “strong recovery community” could help continue his progress in battling drug addiction.

After spells in a hostel and shared accommodation, the 50-year-old secured a private rental flat last October and paid rent with a combination of money he earned from selling The Big Issue, Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

But he told The Big Issue that problems with his PIP payments and the sudden loss of his Big Issue income has made things tight. Although he is protected from eviction through new government guidelines, he like is facing a rent bill as normal even with his reduced income.

“The first payment is due since the lockdown has been on and I’ve not heard any different from my landlord,” David says. “It’s a nice flat and the government pays two thirds of the rent through Universal Credit and then I was topping up £200 with the PIP payments which made it doable.

“So I’ll be getting a £200 whack out of my Universal Credit payments and that will leave me short for the month. I could really do with The Big Issue being back.”

The Big Issue has continued to support David throughout the lockdown with £25 vouchers as well as helping him get a smartphone to access remote meetings with the Dear Albert rehab programme.

Lee Welham Onur Pinar
Lee Welham drop-in
Lee's progress with housing has been halted by the pandemic

Temporary accommodation: Lee Welham, 36, Cambridge

The lockdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for Lee Welham.

He tells The Big Issue that he has been “left in limbo” after government advice to delay moving dates saw him stuck in his temporary accommodation.

Lee is currently in a house share but was due to make the switch to another share with professionals which would have seen his rent payments plummet.

The Cambridge vendor said that he would have to sell hundreds of magazines just to cover his rent and had been hoping that the move would reduce his financial burden.

But the coronavirus lockdown has meant that he has lost plenty of income and is still faced with the rent bill.

That means, like many other Brits who have made 1.4 million applications in the last month, he has had to turn to Universal Credit to get by while The Big Issue has continued to financially support him.

“I need Universal Credit to survive and to be fair to them it was very quick. The Big Issue has been very helpful.

“But for my mental health, it would have been massive to make the move. I’m a franchisee so I speak to vendors all the time and they have been complaining to me about gas and electric meters while in temporary accommodation. Luckily I don’t have that.

“The lockdown has been hard on me. As a vendor I’m used to being outside and being seen by people.”

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.

Hotel: Donny Hilton, 54, London

Recently homeless charity Groundswell revealed that the speed with which rough sleepers were moved off the streets and indoors meant that, initially, “there was a lack of basic food, limited medical support and challenges accessing prescriptions”.

The situation has since improved but one of our London vendors, Donny Hilton, tells The Big Issue that he “feels lucky” to be accommodated during the crisis.

Outreach workers from charity St Mungo’s offered him a room in a Holiday Inn not far from where he had been squatting and he can stay in the hotel for at least three months.

“They came and spoke to us and showed us pictures of the place,” says Donny. “It’s a lovely room. You’ve got a double bed, plasma television, a shower. It’s nice but you do feel isolated, especially when you’re used to being outside all the time.”

Donny is receiving three meals a day from food chain Leon, has his sheets and towels changed regularly and knows he will be given free transport tokens if he needs to go anywhere.

The veteran vendor, who has been selling the magazine on and off for 17 years and was based on Oxford Street, is still worried for his health as he has Type 2 diabetes.

“It’s been well organised and there are a lot of volunteers I can see working really hard,” he says.

“I know I’m at greater risk of being hit hard by the virus than some, so that’s what’s really scaring me at the moment.”

Craig O'Shea Truro
Craig O'Shea drop-in
Craig O'Shea has chosen to carry on rough sleeping to stay safe

Rough sleeping: Craig O’Shea, Truro, 35

For a few of our vendors, the idea of being housed temporarily away by the local council was an uneasy one.

Craig O’Shea feared that the offer he received from Cornwall Housing to be put up in a caravan would put him in contact with others and therefore risk him catching the virus.

He refused the offer and is continuing to sleep rough in a tent, as he has been for the last five months, to maintain social distancing.

Craig tells The Big Issue: “I decided to stay out here because of the coronavirus, I heard the only way you can catch it is if you are in confined spaces with people, so if I’m in the open air I’m less likely to catch it. I feel a lot safer staying out here in my tent.

“I told the people who offered me a place to stay that I don’t want shelters or hostels, I’d rather have my own place with a bit of support.”

The Big Issue cannot force Craig to accept the offer of accommodation but we can help to keep him safe while sleeping outdoors.

Our sales and operations manager for Devon and Cornwall, Steve Carter, sourced a solar-powered phone charger for Craig, which will mean he will be able to keep in contact in an emergency and will not have to seek out places to charge his phone, putting him at further risk of contracting the virus.

Craig adds: “The Big Issue has helped me a lot but it is boring out here, I miss having conversations with customers and the extra money.”

The Big Issue can only carry on supporting vendors through the Covid-19 pandemic with your help. You can buy one-off issues or subscriptions from The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

You can keep us going by subscribing to the magazine to receive it every week directly to your door or device. Head to bigissue.com/subscribe for more details.

You can also get a copy in stores for the first time. Head to Sainsbury’s, McColl’s, Co-op, Asda or WH Smith to grab the latest issue.

Images: hollisphotography.uk/Onur Pinar