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This ex-Big Issue vendor spent seven years homeless. Now she's using her experience to help others

Sharon Clint spent seven years homeless and selling the Big Issue but now she works for charity Groundswell using her experiences to help others

Former Big Issue vendor Sharon Clint

Former Big Issue vendor Sharon Clint now advocates for people who are homeless like she used to be before turning her life around. Image: Supplied

A former Big Issue vendor took the skills she learned while selling the magazine and turned it into a career helping others experiencing homelessness.

Sharon Clint sold the Big Issue magazine in Leeds and London for six years when she turned to vending in 1997 after running away from home at the age of 18.

Now, the 49 year old has utilised her experiences living on the streets and in hostels into working as learning and development manager for homelessness and health charity Groundswell.

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The role draws on her life experience and her communication skills picked up as a vendor to work with councils, hostels, GP surgeries and more to advocate for people experiencing homelessness to get access to healthcare.

Big Issue vendor Sharon Clint
Sharon Clint even still has her Big Issue badge from selling the magazine in Leeds back in the late-90s. Image: Supplied

It’s a far cry from where she was at the turn of the millennium.

“I thought I was going to be dead by 30. I really thought I was destined to be a James Dean character,” she told the Big Issue.

“It’s really weird, because when I look back on it [being homeless], I don’t remember having a great deal of fear around it. I know I should have. And I don’t know whether I was naive. Or I just had too much energy or what was going on. I think I was just so glad to be away from home.

“There were an awful lot of us very young at that point as well. I don’t quite know how that was. But we’d all kind of bunched together and looked out for each other and went clubbing. It feels like it’s cliche, but it felt like community and it was something I wasn’t used to.”

As she spent seven years rough sleeping and staying in hostels, Sharon sold the Big Issue to earn cash and keep her dignity without resorting to begging.

It was an experience she enjoyed. She even kept her Big Issue badge to this day – a “laminated piece of cardboard with a ratty old string through the holes”.

“I absolutely loved it. I actually think I probably did quite well as I’m quite a salesperson when I put my mind to it. Quite theatrical,” said Sharon.

“I came up with loads of jingles and stuff to shout at people and where I used to sell it just near the train station just down the road from the train station in Leeds.

“I just really enjoyed the interaction that it gave me and like the opportunity to be doing something else. I always saw myself as a fairly good beggar. But I didn’t appreciate myself very much as a beggar, I didn’t really like having to sit down and ask for money. I really appreciated the opportunity to feel like I was more making it as a businesswoman, rather than as somebody who’s just asking. It was giving me a bit of dignity.”

Following an adverse experience on the street, Sharon finally moved into temporary accommodation and went on to work for homelessness theatre group Cardboard Citizens.

She eventually ended up working for Groundswell and has now worked for the charity for 10 years.

Sharon, however, still uses the same skills to build relationships and share knowledge as she did when she was selling the Big Issue to customers.

“I would say I absolutely still use those skills. It’s no different trying to grab somebody’s attention when everybody that’s walking past you is doing their best to avoid eye contact with you,” said Sharon.

“It’s no different than when people first walk into a training room and they go, ‘I really don’t want to be in training’.

“My experience of homelessness is huge. I mean, literally, I don’t think I could deliver most of my training without it.

“I’m never not on the move, never not doing something very exciting. I really love my job, I love the work that Groundswell does so I found myself in a very sweet position.”

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