A few weeks ago I did something I’m ashamed to say I’ve never done before. I bought a copy of the Big Issue. Now I don’t want this post to become preachy but over the past few years, homelessness is a subject that’s become more evident and important to me.
Over the last few years, I’ve worked in two city centres where I’ve witnessed a staggering increase in the number of homeless people. In my small seaside town, people living on the street were a rarity during my childhood, but this has increased too. The number of homeless people across the UK has increased dramatically with homeless charity Shelter reporting last year that one in every 200 people in the UK was homeless.
The Big Issue
In the past, I’ve been guilty, as I’m sure many of us have, at ignoring people begging and Big Issue sellers. As a child or young woman on their own I have felt at times intimidated and would rather walk on the other side of the road or ignore someone than engage, in case of the very small chance, that someone gets aggressive. There’s also the thought that many of us have about where any money we give somebody might be spent? Is it going on cigarettes or to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction? The Big Issue helps any of its vendors who have an addiction but does stress that, contrary to popular belief, not all suffer addictions.
Since starting my new job, I’ve started chatting to the Big Issue vendor near my office and he really brightens up my day. Instead of just shouting “Big Issue” like so many do, he simply wishes you a good morning and to have a lovely day. Considering my commute can be very stressful with people pushing, not acknowledging you and being generally anti-social, this is a welcome change. I always wish him a good day back and have on a few occasions now bought the magazine from him.
I didn’t know a lot about the magazine beforehand but it’s actually a really interesting read with some well-written features, as well as real stories about people who have pulled themselves out of homelessness. For those unfamiliar, each vendor has to be either homeless or very close to being so and they pay £1.25 per issue which they then sell on for £2.50.
The misconceptions about homelessness are vast. It’s assumed that the majority are addicts or they must have done something bad to be kicked out of their accommodation or family home. After reading many examples of how people become homeless, it’s actually a lot closer to happening to some of us than we think. I’m lucky that I have a steady job, a home I can afford and a support network of family and friends who would be there if anything went wrong. Some people have no family or friends to fall back on, so if they’re struggling with employment and then can’t afford their rent, it’s very easy for it all to fall apart. Bereavement, redundancy and illness can all cause this.
A few tips on what to do if you see a homeless person:
- Firstly, if you’re concerned about a rough sleeper, particularly if it’s extremely warm or cold outside, contact StreetLink who can put them in contact with support services
- Talk to them. Even if it’s just a hello or if you feel more confident, have chat, find out if there’s anything you can do to help that won’t put you out of pocket. We’re all human and capable of making mistakes at the end of the day
- Rather than giving money, why not grab them a bottle of water, a coffee or a sandwich
- Buy the Big Issue off an official vendor and most importantly, take it. It’s a business, not a charity and they want you to take and read it. If you want to find out more, visit it here
If you’re still cynical about where your money might be going, at the end of the day £2.50 can’t do a lot of harm, but it could do a bit of good.