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.”