The Big Issue – Vendors
You can see them on corners of cities throughout Australia. They come from diverse backgrounds but have one thing that ties them together: they have all fallen on hard times. These are the vendors selling copies of the magazine “The Big Issue”.
If you’re not familiar with The Big Issue, it is a magazine published largely with the goal of helping homeless and disadvantaged folk improve their situation – one step back on the road to stability. Vendors purchase copies of the magazine for $3 and sell them for $6. And so each magazine they sell earns them $3. It’s a way for people who may not be seen as eligible employees to begin to regain independence without relying on charity. In this way, The Big Issue provides support in a way that helps the people who benefit to maintain (or regain) a sense of dignity.
Each has their own stories, and when I recently got to know some of them while working on a project, I discovered each has a unique and fascinating story.
Take Arthur, for example. He lost his sight as a child, but in later years somehow learnt a trade, working as an automobile brake repairer. He was so good at his job that he ended up being responsible for training new employees. He had memorised all the details of each different type of brake, all dimensions and the materials they were made from, and despite being completely blind, understood their function and was able to repair them effectively. After being made redundant, he gained a certificate in IT, and after that, an advanced diploma in counselling. Things took a turn for the worst after his marriage ended, and eventually he ended up destitute. Now he can be seen selling the Big Issue just opposite the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane. When I met him I found him to be an intelligent man who spoke eloquently, and who had a quirky sense of humour.
Jason, of Samoan descent, came to Australia from New Zealand, working in IT for major telecommunications companies including Telstra and Vodaphone. After taking a break from work, he found the industry had become much more competitive on his return, and he failed to gain employment. He is now working on losing weight as he feels his image is a part of the reason he cannot convert interviews into jobs. He hopes to save enough money to eventually return to New Zealand. Jason is one of the warmest guys I’ve met since moving to Brisbane.
Taking the time to get to know some of the people working as Big Issue vendors was really eye-opening. Most people pass them by on the street, and in a way, they become invisible. But they are indeed people who deserve our support as they try to get their lives back on track. Some are studying trades to make themselves more employable, while others work ten hours, seven days a week to pull together enough money to live on in this increasingly expensive world and to be less of a drain on the welfare system.
So next time you see someone on the street trying to sell copies, maybe go over and grab one – it’s also a decent read. Even if you don’t, just smiling and saying “hi” or giving them a friendly nod of acknowledgement makes a difference, making their lives just that little bit warmer. And if you stop for a quick chat, you’ll see just what great and interesting people they are.