Being part of an international network of street papers – more than 100 magazines in 35 countries – gives immediate, first-hand insight into challenges facing people on the margins across the globe.
Homelessness is a pervasive presence everywhere, even if the reasons why people can find themselves without a home or stable income differ from place to place. But from Birmingham to Buenos Aires, Cardiff to Chicago or Perth, Scotland to Perth, Australia, vendors choose to sell a street paper like The Big Issue for the chance to support themselves.
A fresh crisis has been on everybody’s lips (which you shouldn’t be touching with unwashed hands) as street papers are encountering the coronavirus.
The Covid-19 virus is spreading so quickly and unpredictably that anything written about it risks being instantaneously outdated. But it has already affected street paper vendors, beginning with those based in South Korea, where the first outbreak outside of China occurred.
Early in February, staff noticed the streets of Seoul were quieter than usual. Five thousand face masks were sourced to distribute among vendors. They were donated by a music label, and worryingly described as “fashionable”. Let’s hope face mask fashion doesn’t become this season’s hottest trend.
But face masks themselves prove problematic for vendors. Mr Yamada, who sells The Big Issue Japan in Osaka, said: “It’s a complicated matter. When you wear a mask, some people feel anxious and cautious, believing the vendor to be sick, despite the mask being there for protection in the first place.”