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World Homeless Day 2020: Pandemic through the eyes of vendors

In 2020, World Homeless Day takes place in the shadow of coronavirus. We hear from vendors around the world about how they’ve been affected.

For World Homeless Day 2020, we have collected the words of international street paper vendors – all of whom have been hit by the effects of Covid-19.

The Big Issue is one of more than 100 street papers in 35 countries across the world. The publications may look different, but all of them work on the same revolutionary idea.

All street papers offer employment opportunities to people in poverty – a hand up, not a hand-out. Around the world, vendors buy their magazines and then sell them on to make a profit.

Just as our vendors here in the UK have faced the challenges of a period of lockdown – and then the decrease in customers caused by everyone working from home – so the pandemic has hit their global colleagues.

We heard from seven vendors about the impact of coronavirus, and how much their local street paper means to them.

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Mark sells The Big Issue in Adelaide, Australia

During Australia’s lockdown, Mark wrote a diary for The Big Issue. He reflected on how it felt when he wasn’t able to go to work.

“The Big Issue stopped selling to the public. I am without a job, without a purpose, and the world has gone to hell. I have been walking most days for exercise; it helps with my mental health. My balcony has become my sanctuary. I often go out for fresh air, to listen to the sounds of the city and to occasionally talk to my neighbours who are doing the same thing.”

Svetlana Kalinov sells Liceulice inKikinda, Serbia

Covid-19 restrictions forced Liceulice vendors off the streets in Kikinda. Svetlana said that she missed the sense of being a useful part of society.

“Unfortunately, when the Covid-19 crisis began, street sales ceased,” Svetlana said. “I hoped that the Covid-19 crisis would calm down so I could go back to work, as I miss the work itself. I also miss the feeling of being useful that the job gives me.

“I would like to see the approach towards the employment of people with disabilities change. I’ve never had a job before; there was no work for me. It is a great feeling that we are all connected through the magazine, both vendors and customers. It is important to be there and encourage one another through difficult times, to be friends.

“I have this urge to help others because I experienced lot of difficulties throughout my childhood and was often in the hospital. My fingers have been webbed since I was born and I’ve had eight operations. My toes are webbed as well and I have a knot on both of my feet that hurts and makes it difficult to walk. I can’t walk fast, but I keep fighting.”

Lisa Sawyer sells Real Change in Seattle, USA

King County, home to Seattle’s Real Change, was one of the worst affected areas in the beginning of the global Covid-19 outbreak. As normality started to return, the magazine caught up with Lisa.

“I’m happy to be back selling Real Change. It’s really nice to see everybody again, especially us vendors. We haven’t seen each other since the whole virus happened. I think for a lot of us [who sell Real Change in the] downtown or other business areas, it’s going to be really tough for us because I’m hearing most people are not coming back to their actual jobs until next year because of all this coronavirus.”

Thomas sells Hinz&Kunzt in Hamburg, Germany

For two months starting in the end of May, vendors were unable to sell Hinz&Kunzt in Hamburg. Thomas spoke to the paper on his first day back at his pitch. He told them about his fears while he wasn’t able to sell the magazine.

“I’m not saying my world collapsed, but… I thought I would have to start begging again. And there’s absolutely no way at all I wanted that to happen. It wasn’t just about the money. I missed all the people and the conversations with them. It makes me realise why I need to get up in the morning.”

Gary Keeton sells STREETZine in Dallas, USA

Vietnam veteran and STREETZine vendor Gary Keeton spoke about being forced to halt selling the Dallas street paper due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and how keen he is to be back on his pitch.

“It’s been hard. I’d really be suffering if it wasn’t for the First Presbyterian Church and [local homeless charity] The Stewpot. They get food to me and send me gift cards. I’ve met so many interesting people [selling STREETZine].

“I was selling papers near Dallas City Hall, so every month [then-Mayor] Laura Miller would come out and get the paper from me. I got to know the police chief and the downtown police. I got along with everybody. That’s one of the reasons I work on the paper. I didn’t want to be outcast. And when you’re a homeless person, that’s what you are—an outcast. The paper helped me be a part of society. I want to get back to being a vendor.”

Teresa Ng sells Megaphone in Vancouver, Canada

Teresa Ng has been a Megaphone vendor for around eight years. She has kept herself busy during the pandemic but has been distressed by the racial abuse she has suffered as a result of her ethnicity.

“A lot of Chinese people were born in Canada, but I think a lot of people are being mean to people of Asian heritage and blaming them for the virus. I have stayed home most of the time during the pandemic.

“To keep busy, I write in my journal, cook, clean up, and study my books at home. I enjoy cooking and eating rice, vegetables, and fish. I would like to work hard to sell Megaphone magazines to make money to give offerings to the church and support people who work in the office.”

Mr K, The Big Issue Japan, Osaka, Japan

Mr K. has been working as a vendor for three years. He credits The Big Issue with awakening an increased interest in the lives of others and giving back to the community.

“What I can do now is stand up with all my heart. Even if I do not sell any copies, I will continue to stand up with a sense of responsibility—and it is important for people to see that I am always standing there. Actually, at times, it is tough. But if you work hard, I think that you will always reap the rewards. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how to sell more copies of The Big Issue. I don’t want this magazine, which has saved me, to disappear. I think there will definitely continue to be people who will need its help, and I want this company to be a place where these people can come out of their shells and challenge themselves.”

Interviews and images courtesy of INSP.ngo, Liceulice, The Big Issue Australia, Real Change, Hinz&Kunzt, STREETZine, Megaphone, The Big Issue Japan

Translations by Ivana Radanovic, Emiko Yoshimatsu, Sean Morris

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