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How European street paper vendors are coping in the heatwave

Exposed to a dangerous heatwave and unable to work, street paper vendors are on the front line of the climate crisis

A street paper vendor in Belgrade makes a sale

Goran Stojić who sells Liceulice in Belgrade. Image: Sara Ristić

Street paper vendors across the world might come from many different circumstances, but they have always had common challenges to overcome. In the past, these focused on homelessness, poverty, social exclusion and inequality. But now, as roasting temperatures scorch much of Europe and other parts of the planet, the climate crisis has been added to the mix and, for some, is becoming the biggest issue of them all. 

The International Network of Street Papers, which connects organisations like The Big Issue that give opportunity to those in need, estimates that 13 street papers in southern Europe and the Balkans have been badly affected by the recent heatwave. Another 40 across the rest of the continent have had to respond to extreme heat, impacting hundreds of street sellers in over a dozen countries.

In Italy, there have been weather extremes. Heatwaves in the south of the country, storms and tennis ball-sized hailstones in the north. Sabrina Montanarella from Milan-based street paper Scarp de’ tenis shares the story of a 50-year-old man experiencing homeless who died in Rome. Named Sorriso – which means smile, because of his lack of teeth, he was found dead on a bench on 22 July. “He died from heat and indifference,” Montanarella says.

Greece has been the epicentre of the heatwave. As temperatures in Athens exceeded 40°C on 15 July, the Acropolis was closed to tourists and a wildfire – like those affecting the islands of Corfu and Rhodes – raged a few miles north of the capital. 

“We are expecting 41°C today,” says Ioanna Sakketa when The Big Issue checks in with Greek street paper Shedia. Sakketa is director of development and partnerships and is working hard to support around 70 vendors who make their living selling magazines on the streets of the city. 

When temperatures were surpassing 40°C for days on end, Shedia made the difficult decision to stop selling magazines to vendors. “Of course we had reactions from our vendors,” Sakketa says, “but we were afraid that they wouldn’t take care of themselves on their own so we decided to not to distribute the magazine.”  

Shedia vendor Michael with actress Mary Stavrakelli
Shedia vendor Michael took part in a ‘Salesman for an hour’ awareness campaign with actress Mary Stavrakelli last summer. Image: Shedia

Greece always has warm summers but the sustained heatwave means conditions are worse than previous years. “Now it’s an alarm for everyone,” Sakketa explains. “In the news they say take care of yourself and give instructions about how to go out. Last year it was warm, but this is something else. The problem that I see coming is what if this continues for the whole summer? Then what do we do? We stopped selling magazines for a while. But then if it continues how do you reassure their income?” 

To support their vendors during the heatwave Shedia is providing extra free magazines to boost their income once selling is permitted. “The good thing is that none of our sellers is without a place to stay,” Sakketa adds. “They’re not living in the streets.” 

Sakketa has been developing “protected points of sale”. These are the result of partnerships with places like supermarkets and shopping malls which allow a vendor to sell on their sheltered – air conditioned – premises, but often only for a couple of hours a couple of days a week. Now she wants to dramatically extend the programme. 

“It’s not that everybody says yes to these points of sale very easily, or perhaps they give it to you with some conditions, but there is the urgency. We say to them, ‘listen, vendors can’t go out, we need to increase the days and the hours. And companies that haven’t done this with us yet, we’re going to ask that they open their doors now.” 

Shedia is also exploring how to set up a subscription service. I tell them about The Big Issue’s. On our website there’s a map of the UK with scores of vendor pitches on it. You can search for your local vendor – or pick any other – and when you subscribe, the proceeds go to them. That means people who are not able to regularly buy magazines from a vendor can support them, and people in areas that don’t have any Big Issue sellers can also contribute towards our mission. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

It’s something Shedia will look into. Subscription sales are already helping other street papers. Liceulice, based in Belgrade, Serbia, has also been battling the heatwave. They say that “more subscriptions mean less reasons for sellers at risk and high temperatures”. 

People walk next a mist machine to cool down, in Monastiraki district of Athens
People cool down at a mist machine in the Monastiraki district of Athens, Thursday 20 July 2023 Image: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo

A spokesperson adds: “Due to extremely high and dangerous temperatures, we advised our magazine sellers to take extra care of themselves these days, not to go out when the sun is hot, and if they have to, stay in the shade and hydrate as much as possible.” 

On their Facebook page they added the following advice to their followers during the heatwave: “When you see vendors, please be mindful of them. They sell magazines even in the highest temperatures because they have to, because every issue sold to them means safety and survival.” 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine out this week. Support your local vendor by buying today! If you cannot reach your local vendor, click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop. The Big Issue app is available now from the App Store or Google Play

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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