The Big Issue: Journalism worth paying for

Bryan Cranston from 'Breaking Bad' on the cover of The Big Issue
Bryan Cranston from ‘Breaking Bad’ on the cover of The Big Issue

Many of you, if not most, would have walked past someone trying to sell you a copy of The Big Issue. And I’m sure that many of you have also rejected the seller in a flurry, passing them off as a mere distraction on a busy day. Maybe after reading this, you’ll think twice about doing that.

The Big Issue was founded in 1991 with the intention of providing jobs for homeless individuals. Since then, a total of over $19 million has been earnt and pocketed by Australia’s disadvantaged. Written by independent and professional journalists, it offers opportunities for them to earn a legitimate income and take a positive step to changing their lives around for the better.

A homeless man selling The Big Issue
A homeless man selling The Big Issue

But how does it work? Vendors (the homeless) purchase copies of The Big Issue magazine and sell it on the streets for a price of $6, from which they pocket the difference. As mentioned in a previous blog post, stable jobs are extremely hard to find for many of the homeless population, due to inconsistency of hours, lack of address or phone. However, The Big Issue is an option that allows these individual vendors to choose their own hours, days and period of work, without the need for proper addresses.

Not only does this magazine provide opportunities for the homeless in getting them back on their feet, but also raises awareness in the community about social matters like this, and the importance of helping. It shows us that in society today, the homeless are not simply lazy and do find ways to try make a living to support themselves with basic needs.

So let’s meet a vendor and hear his story:

Paul D
Paul D

My mother died when I was seven, and my father when I was 16. I’d always worked, starting from the meat works industry from a young age in order to support myself.

I travelled back to England with a Scottish friend, but unfortunately sad times came and he became sick and suddenly passed away. After that, I didn’t have any money to get back to Australia and when I eventually did, I was already growing old.

Back in Australia, I tried to get any job that I could lay my hands on, including a road sweeping one, but had no luck as nobody was hiring. I couldn’t get any money off Centrelink, or a pension, and soon I found myself homeless and without a job. I had tried and tried, but nobody had given me a chance.

That’s until I found the Big Issue, which I started selling in 2001 on Hunter Street, which I’m still on till this day. My day begins at around 7:30am, and I sell for hours until 2pm, when I then have a break before coming back out. Many of the customers are regulars, so I’ve created relationships with most of them and on many occasions they’ll bring me out a cup of coffee to ease the day.

I used to sleep very close to Hunter Street, and always next to the same people, a guy and a girl, just for safety. But as you get older, like I had become, it becomes more and more dangerous to outside on the streets, you could get bashed or robbed in your sleep.

I’ve now got a house through the Department of Housing and have been living in it for eight months. Through my work with The Big Issue, I’ve been able to save up enough money to properly take care of myself, I want to get some more blankets to keep myself warmer in the winter months- something that I wasn’t used to before.

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Like Paul, many of the homeless and disadvantaged do work, mainly through such helpful initiatives like The Big Issue, which offer them second chances and opportunities at a better life.

Next time you walk past someone selling a copy of the magazine, please think twice about ignoring them for a mere $6- you could be helping someone pay for their only meal for the day.

#youoverme

Written by JC

MYTH 1: How come homeless people don’t just go and get a job?

homeless wall street

Over the years, we’ve heard so many assumptions and stereotypes of the homeless that we can’t even count them on one hand anymore. One of the most reoccurring ones being that the homeless are simply too lazy to work. Many people with comfortable shelter over their heads always seem to find the time to question, “How come homeless people don’t just get a job?” In saying this, they don’t ever wonder if there are actually jobs readily available, or if any barriers persist, such as being able to work without a proper home or address.

Actually, one third to one half of the homeless population are employed, with the employment rate holding around 44%- a statistic that may surprise many of you. This might raise questions as to why these people don’t have proper housing as they must earn some sort of money to be able to do so, right? Most of this population are working minimum wage jobs, ones that don’t actually provide enough money to pay for the basic living expenses in many parts of Australia. According to Janda (2015), our country still tops Deutsche Bank’s global list of expensive countries chart as the world’s most expensive country to live in. On top of this, many of the working homeless are underemployed, meaning that they don’t get enough hours to support themselves, or if they did have a home before, are lacking significantly in the ability to pay the bills. The average rent for houses increased by 75.8% between 2002 and 2012 (National Shelter, 2014), and between 2009-2010, it was found that there was a shortage of 539,000 private rental dwellings that were both affordable and available for renters with gross incomes at or below the bottom 40% of income distribution. In saying this, many people who work for low wages find themselves without a home when the company that they work for cutback their hours or staff. In such a world, there are many working people living around us in cars, shelters, or simply on the streets.

But wait, so why don’t they just get multiple jobs to get more money so that proper shelter is possible? It’s not really that simple. Getting enough hours at multiple jobs can be extremely difficult- employers have to be happy to make a schedule that accommodates the time schedule of the employee’s other jobs. Coming from personal experience, even working for jobs that pay much higher than minimum wage, I’ve certainly had difficulty maintaining multiple jobs at the same time due to conflicting schedules.

Although jobs provide money, money alone in many instances is not enough to rent an apartment. What?!… You might ask. It’s true, to get accepted as a tenant of majority of apartment complexes, one must have a stable credit history and a job that pays triple the monthly rent. Let’s put this into perspective- if a room in an apartment or house only costs $650 a month, those who rent it must earn at least $1950 to cover the costs. So although a homeless person may earn at least $650 a month, most apartment complexes won’t rent to him if he makes not much more than this.

As mentioned before, the lack of an address is an issue. Employers are put off by irregular postal addresses as they can’t properly put them on postal addresses. On top of this, many homeless people don’t own actual phones, so communication between the employer and employee will be difficult, and contacting them for interviews would be hard.

Many homeless people also don’t have cars- which makes it difficult in commuting to and from jobs. Samuel Meixueiro, a homeless man living in a church in Kansas had been walking on foot for five to six hours each way everyday to work. “I’m not a vagrant. I have a job. I’m doing the best I can”, Meixuerio said. A police officer who heard his story immediately went out and bought a bicycle for Meixueiro to help him on his journey.

Samuel Meixueiro getting his new bike
Samuel Meixueiro

Before you judge a book by its cover, please take some time to always consider the multiple layers behind it. Homeless people may look a certain way, but many of them are much more hardworking than some of us are. Like this police officer, let’s put their needs over our own.

Read more about Samuel here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3252610/Kind-hearted-cop-gives-bike-homeless-man-learning-walk-FIVE-HOURS-way-work.html

SOURCES:

Janda, M. (2015). Cost of living: Australia tops Deutsche Bank’s global list of expensive countries. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-17/australia-tops-the-global-charts-for-cost-of-living/6400358 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2015].

National Shelter, (2015). Housing Australia factsheet. [online] WA: Shelter WA, pp.2-12. Available at: http://www.shelternsw.org.au/publications-new/factsheets-new/226-housing-australia-factsheet/file [Accessed 22 Aug. 2015].

Interview with: Joe

'Joe'
‘Joe’

Here at You Over Me, we see the power of engaging with others. So we took some time yesterday to go talk to someone special to find out his story and the reason why he is where he is today. We met up with ‘Joe’ (he preferred not to be pictured), a 39 year old homeless man that is usually situated in Newtown, and I drive past him everyday that I go to work. He always has all of his possessions packed into three or four bags next to him. He’s certainly not your average joe (pun intended), and showed me that there is definitely always more the eye. 

Q1: How did you come to live here?

I used to live in a little house with my wife at the time, and owned my own business (he described it as a paper printing company, similar to Kinko’s). It was destroyed by the downturn in the economy and the Internet and personal computers coming in- not many people needed to come in and print documents anymore as they had their own printers at home. It was so sad, I’d owned the company for over 10 years and had built so many relationships from it. After that, my wife and I started to grow apart and eventually she wanted a divorce, which because of a prenup that we signed before, I had to give her most of my money on top of expensive divorce fees.  I spiralled into depression and drinking. I’ve been homeless for about two years now.

Q2: What do you do everyday? Do you have job?

Contrary to popular belief, some of us work bloody hard everyday. Although I no longer have a home, everyday I’m trying to pick myself up and save up for something small. I wasn’t always like this (homeless), and I don’t believe I always will be. I work as a cleaner in the city, and so every morning I wake up at about 6am and go to the gym on the corner where they let me use the showers and get ready for work. Real nice of them. Rand, the owner he’s a good bloke, always helps me out when I’m in need. I work damn hard and haven’t called in sick even for one day. But the rental and housing rates are just too high, I can’t afford it at the moment and haven’t been able to get too many shifts.

Q3What’s the hardest part of being homeless?

Everyday is a struggle. Finding something to eat that is substantial, finding shelter when the shelter homes are full. The other day, I went into Maccas to get something to eat, and it was humiliating. Everyone was looking down at me because of the way that I was dressed. I used to be like everyone else, but it sometimes seems like we’re a completely different race or group from others. I didn’t get any shifts the week before as the company that I work as a cleaner closed for a week and didn’t need me, so I didn’t have much money for food. I wanted to get a burger but I only had a few dollars in my pocket, and I was missing 50 cents. So I couldn’t get the burger as I didn’t have 50 cents. It’s also hard because although I don’t have an alcohol problem anymore, sometimes when it’s freezing out here and all I have is one thin blanket, sometimes not even, I’m going to go to the liquor store and buy a drink when it’s that cold to warm me up a bit.

Joe, like many others, are not simply homeless because they choose to be. Many hardships and personal traumas have led to such situations, and many of them are working hard to change that around. We hope that this interview has helped bust the myth that homeless people are lazy and don’t actually have jobs. Clearly, that’s not the case. Stay tuned for more interviews!

Written by JC