Group discussion: who should we be supporting?

The global economic crisis has changed the demography of homelessness and unemployment. Record numbers of families are now homeless and many European street papers are seeing large increases in homeless people from Romania and Bulgaria. The discussion on the final day of the INSP conference concerns the question: “our vendors: who should we be supporting?”

The delegates were split into four groups, each focusing on a different vendor support issue in order to create a clear picture of how the demography of homelessness is shifting and what street papers will have to do in order to adapt to new vendor groups.

Debate focused around four key questions: What are the needs of our vendors and how have these changed in recent years? How have street papers responded to those needs? What are the related challenges? What does the future hold for street papers in relation to vendor support?

Frank Dries (Straatnieuws, Netherlands)
and Des Sharples (BI UK).

Groups 1a and 1b, led by Fay Selvan (Group Chief Executive at The Big Issue in the North, UK), Bastian Pütter (Editor-in-Chief of Bodo, Germany), Frank Dries (Editor of Straatnieuws, the Netherlands) and Des Sharples (National Sales Manager at The Big Issue UK), looked at economic migration. The number of Roma and other economic migrants continues to increase across cities in Europe, forcing street papers to decide who to support and how to support them. Fay Selvan from The Big Issue in the North, states that, “Roma are
the most discriminated against ethnic minority in Europe today, it is
not just about giving them a job, but also about campaigning against
something that is not democratic and goes against human rights.”

For some street papers, over half of the vendors are Roma, while others exclude them from selling entirely. Delegates discussed these difficult choices as well as looking at the need to adapt existing services to meet different needs while also continuing to support existing vendors. One of the most important points discussed was the necessity to closely analyze the specific needs of Roma and how to meet them, for example: overcoming the language barrier and

Fay Selvan (BI in the North) and
Bastian Pütter (Bodo, Germany).

providing child daycare for the Roma children. Another important aspect is the public opinion about Roma. A project of shared investigative journalism between several street papers was proposed which would help refute myths about the Roma community in general and Roma vendors in particular. With the number of Roma increasing in most countries and with a rising number of Roma street newspaper vendors, giving this group a positive visibility in the magazine itself is a good way to educate and inform the public.

Henrique Pinto (Cais, Portugal) and
Chris Alefantis (Shedia, Greece).

Group 2, meanwhile, focused on the issue of homelessness caused by the financial crisis. As mentioned above, the global economic downturn has led to an increase in unemployment and homelessness across many countries. This, in turn, has placed increasing demand on street papers as more people look for ways to earn an income. Henrique Pinto (Executive Director of Cais, Portugal) and Chris Alefantis (Editor-in-Chief of Shedia, Greece) looked at how street papers can cope with this pressure and discussed how they can continue to offer support services even when governments continue to cut welfare budgets.

The discussion focused on whether or not vendor should be reintegrated in the regular labour market. “I don’t see why selling a street paper shouldn’t be considered a proper job,” argues Patricia Merkin from Hecho en Bs.As. (Argentina).

The changing demography of homelessness has seen an increase in whole families with no permanent address. Group 3, chaired by Trudy Vlok (INSP Vice-Chair & Treasurer and Managing Director of The Big Issue South Africa) and Steven Persson (INSP Secretary and CEO of The Big Issue Australia), discussed homeless families and especially the situation of female vendors since tP { margin-bottom: 0here is a big lack of women engaged in
the street paper work all over the world.

Discussion group: Female vendors.
Women living in poverty are some of the most marginalised, vulnerable people in society. Many are solely responsible for supporting their families. Just like their male counterparts, female vendors have the opportunity to earn a sustained income by selling street papers but there are often additional challenges such as childcare and safety. Steven Persson underlined that

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two essentials should be provided:
economic power and permanent secure housing.

Delegates discussed these challenges and possible solutions to them, including innovative approaches such as The Big Issue Australia’s Women’s Subscription Enterprise.

Discussion group: Homelessness in
financial crisis.

The Women’s Subscription Enterprise allows women to earn a stable income in a job that keeps them safely off of the streets. It has the additional bonus of allowing the street paper to reach remote customers, widening its readership and increasing its income.
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In South Africa, female vendors are protected by a local security company which keeps them safe at their
working place. Trudy Vlok said: “In this case you have to fight against

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victimisation, stereotyping, sexual
abuse, domestic violence and cultural disgrace.”

Group 4 discussed the International Street Paper Vendor Week. In February 2013 INSP launched its first-ever Vendor Week, an international programme of events and activities celebrating street paper vendors, championing their entrepreneurial spirit and challenging perceptions of homelessness and poverty.

INSP’s Development Manager, Maree Aldam, along with Shawn Bourdages (Communications and Fundraising Assistant at L’Itinéraire, Canada) and Cole Merkel (Vendor Coordinator at Street Roots, USA), spoke of the success of this year’s Vendor Week – 46 street papers from 20 countries participated, involving around 8,000 vendors and reaching 70,000 readers worldwide.

Furthermore, the Vendor Week was covered in the mainstream media as well. In Scotland, for example, there was a slot on national television.

The group leaders then asked the delegates to share how they participated. Brittany Langmeyer, publisher at StreetWise, USA, reported that they organized an Instagram competition. The aim was to get to take as many pictures with vendors as possible and upload them. The winner was rewarded with free copies of StreetWise for a month. Shawn of L’Itinéraire talked about the open house sessions they organized during the vendor week, where customers could visit the office rooms of the paper and meet vendors as well as staff of the paper.

However, some delegates highlighted that vendors should be the centre of our efforts each and every day and not just for one week per year.

“It is like mother’s day – you celebrate it on a special day every year, but in fact, it is even better if you show love to your mother every day,” Dijana Gjorgievska, President of Ulica, Macedonia, concluded.

The importance of the Vendor Week was underlined by Maree who pointed out that it is specifically about the people who sell the papers. What INSP wants to achieve with Vendor Week is for the public to really understand the street paper concept, to raise awareness and, finally, to increase sales. Although INSP does not launch any programs for the vendor week on its own, it puts an umbrella over all the projects street papers all over the world do, showing that it is a powerful international movement.

After the final discussion session of the conference each group was asked to report back on their discussions with all feedback being collated for the conference report.