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Opinion

Merry Christmas! Here’s to the next year helping the homeless help themselves

“By buying and taking The Big Issue, you equalise two people who are in a sense unequal in the world”

I applaud your good sense in buying The Big Issue. I hope you continue with your buying. I hope that the experience of buying fulfils some of your needs. Your need to be kept informed, titivated, enticed, entertained, questioned; and engaged with one of the biggest looking, seemingly unsolvables of modern times.

The figures grow of more and more people living a temporary accommodation life. That is, people who do not control where they live. That where they live is at the whim of some helping agency or is actually nowhere in particular; down the back of some car park, warehouse or ensconced in a frosty sleeping bag in a doorway.

When you have nowhere ‘certain’ to live you defy all of the basic human needs. All other human needs, like eating and sleeping, washing, flow out of that need. Such needs can be supplied in an ad hoc, off-the-cuff fashion. But if you really want to do in the minds of the healthy, or the unhealthy, even more, pull from under them the safety, the comfort, the need of being at rest somewhere permanently.

I salute you buying this paper, engaging with the vendor you are have bought the paper from

That is why when a Big Issue vendor gets somewhere to stay we carry on working with them because we realise how treasured, how life-enhancing is that experience of having somewhere to go back to. So long as where you go back to is a bit of yourself expressed within four walls, a roof and a floor.

Being transient is being lost. Unless of course you’re doing a Jack Kerouac (in his novel On the Road) and keeping moving is your idea of bursting free from the const-raints of society. But most of us need a billet, a place that feels and smells and tastes like our own space. We are no different from foxes and cats in that way.

I salute you buying this paper, engaging with the vendor you are have bought the paper from, and hope that it brightens your Christmas in the same way you have brightened up his and mine. Without the lifeblood of purchase we cannot carry on and the person selling The Big Issue will have to find another way of carrying on. Perhaps one more damaging. Or they may write a book about their life with a cat and enter the big time. Who knows.

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When I started The Big Issue with Gordon Roddick of The Body Shop, with his wife Anita drawing in much of the press, and a whole heap of people who have since gone on to other things, my intention was to ‘reform giving’. That is, create an equality between two people.

One person was the vendor of the magazine; someone whose luck had either run out or never arrived. And the general public. The essential ingredient was that the person selling to the public was “proud to sell” and “the public were pleased to buy”. A hand up not a handout.

We have helped in that area for 25 years. We have helped the reform of giving. We have influenced politicians, charity givers, the public themselves and almost won the argument that in giving a handout it was necessary to convert it to a hand up.

That is give the giving an edge to it, so that it improved not just the day being lived at the time of the giving; but prepared for a better tomorrow.

By buying The Big Issue you turn your giving into a transaction that helps people face up to the situation they are in. That they may not choose to do so is to a large extent down to them. But you have helped open the door to give the person selling the chance of moving their life on; if they choose to take it.

By buying The Big Issue you turn your giving into a transaction that helps people face up to the situation they are in

Giving, to make sense, involves taking. Therefore if you give to someone but don’t take something from them you have denied them the chance of equality with you. So by giving your money and taking the magazine you create an equality between you and the vendor. You have equalised something between two people who are in a sense unequal in the world. Though in heart and mind they are. And in the transaction you each have something the other party wants.

I commend you for your purchase and your participating in the lives of others in such a positive way. Thank you for taking the magazine and hopefully reading it, and if necessary critiquing it. If it fails in parts, or completely, it would be good to hear so. I am always receiving comments, good and bad, about the magazine. All are welcome. And all will influence our work on a better Big Issue in the New Year.

I applaud, salute and commend your decision to buy this issue of The Big Issue. And bear in mind if you really want to change anything in this world it is through combination: thousands, millions of little acts, whether it’s buying The Big Issue, or voting for what you believe in. Or supporting people caught in wars and fleeing with their children. Or helping people in your community in need; it all adds up. It all transforms. It all makes sense.

I sincerely, deeply wish you every good fun and joy, mixed with a good bit of thinking, this Christmastide. I hope to see you for the New Year’s Issue, and further issues throughout the coming year: as we help the homeless to help themselves: together.

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Support us today

Over the last 30 years, your contributions have been vital in providing opportunities for those facing poverty by giving them a hand up, not a hand out. Support us to help thousands more. Buy a copy from your local vendor, donate or subscribe online today.

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