Mark and Ann are well-known characters to their customers on the streets of Melbourne and Denver, respectively. Over a Skype chat in honour of INSP #VendorWeek, they share their experiences of selling The Big Issue Australia and Denver Voice – and what the future holds for them both. #VendorWeek is INSP’s annual, global celebration of the 10,000 men and women who sell street papers in 35 countries around the world. This year it runs from 6-12 February.
Mark: [Holding a recent copy of Big Issue Australia] This is a copy of our magazine.
Ann: That is nice! How long have been doing the paper?
M: Nearly three years now.
A: And what were you doing before you started selling the paper?
M: I used to be a butcher by trade, until I had to stop for health reasons. But a friend of mine had been selling The Big Issue Australia for 12 or 13 years – so I came down, did the induction course and I have been loving it ever since.
A: Well, I’ve doing this for five years. I used to work in marketing, and I lost my job and I didn’t know what to do. I saw a vendor on the street in Denver, and I went up and asked how to get started. He sent me to the office and I haven’t looked back. Do you enjoy it?
M: Yeah, I talk to a lot of people who wouldn’t normally talk to me if I didn’t have the uniform on.
A: It’s really interesting all the people that you meet and they really understand your situation. The people who buy the magazine from me have sort of become my friends now. How has selling the paper affected you? Were you homeless for a while?
M: I was living in a community boarding house and before that I had been a pretty heavy drinker. So selling the magazine cut my drinking for a start – because I had something to do with myself. Then I went back to Adelaide because my dad was on his deathbed.
After spending a year there, I came back to Melbourne and I was homeless for a little while. Now I’m in temporary accommodation – I’m on a list waiting for something permanent to come up. The magazine has totally changed my attitude.
Instead of sitting around being negative and destructive and just getting wrecked, it’s given me something positive to do with my day. It’s given me some discipline, self respect and helped my self-esteem.
A: That’s exactly how I feel, Mark. I was feeling really low when I first lost my job. I was worried about what I was going to do. I thought about what I used to do before – which was marketing and that’s like selling.
I thought, well, I have a really great product to sell. So, I know I can do this. Prior to that, I had been homeless three times. It was either sleeping in my car, sleeping outside or in a shelter. Finally when I was able to start selling the paper I started feeling better about myself.
It kind of saved my life. Before I was sitting around feeling depressed and then bad things happen – people around you start asking you to go for a drink.
M: I’ve battled with addictions over the years. But I make addiction my bitch now; I’m not a bitch to addiction.
A: Well you should be proud of yourself Mark – because you have changed your life. And I have changed my life – and it’s all because of the papers and the people that believe in you.
M: Yeah – but it’s not just because of the paper. Before anyone can help you, you have to want to help yourself.
A: Exactly, that’s true.
M: One thing I heard in a 12-step program was, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink and you can’t drown the bloody thing”.
A: [Laughing] So Mark, do you have your own place?
M: I’ve got an apartment – it’s temporary. It’s coming up to 18 months, now. It’s good.
A: Right now I have a studio. It’s just a little room, but it’s better than being on the cement, you know? I’ve had it for almost 10 years. But I’ve lived in so many shelters, I lived in my car one time. I was so scared. I didn’t know what I was going to do.
M: What does the magazine cost over there?
A: The Denver Voice… The suggested price is $US2.
M: Our magazine sells for $AUD7. It went up to $7 a year ago and people still buy it. People have said that it doesn’t matter if it goes up to $10. It’s a good read and it’s a good cause.
A: Oh interesting, so it’s like a real magazine – it’s real thick.
M: Yeah it has 48 pages – how many pages in The Denver Voice?
A: It’s around 15 to 20 pages.
M: Geez, I wouldn’t like to be homeless in Denver in the wintertime!
A: You know what? It snowed today. It’s kind of cold – it’s around 35°F (about 1°C).
M: I think we are going to be over 100°F (38°C) today.
Ann: Oh my gosh, can I go there?
A: You are down there with them dingos and those little joeys. I want to go Australia so much. Talking to you has made my day.
M: What are your hopes for the future?
A: I want to go back to school. I was learning computer programming but I dropped out. I want to maybe try to make a difference in someone else’s life, you know? Because I know what I went through was really, really hard, and maybe I can help somebody out. What about you?
M: I had a go at mature-age studies. I got into law school and did a year and a half, then I pulled out – but I want to get into photography. I don’t mind writing and photography, but I need to be inspired.
A: I know, I am the same. I never knew I could write, but then when I started at the paper they asked me if I wanted to write a story and so I tried and I started writing poems. I really enjoy it. This has been really interesting.
M: It’s been interesting from my point of view, too. It’s good to talk to a vendor in a different country.
A: This was my first time Skyping and you’ve made it a pleasure!
M: Well, be in touch, and you have a good day. See ya Denver!
Courtesy of The Big Issue Australia / INSP.ngo