"I hope the entire community will rise again" Street vendors around the world look beyond the pandemic by Tony Inglis, Executive Director , INSP A note to readers: Street papers provide trustworthy independent journalism and an opportunity for society’s most vulnerable and marginalised to earn a meaningful income. The impact of the pandemic has severely affected their work. Find out how to support your local street paper through subscriptions and donations here. https://insp.ngo/supporting-street-papervendors-around-the-world-during-thecovid-19-pandemic/ “This year has been very challenging and fi lled with sorrow for everybody,” says Lawrence Odion, a 26-year-old, originally from Nigeria, who sells street papers. It’s a sentiment people at all levels of society should be able to agree with. Lawrence works with zebra., a magazine based in the South Tyrol region of northern Italy. Back in the early throes of 2020, the severity with which COVID-19 hit Italy was frightening, and yet still seemed far away to many, despite warnings that should have been heeded from its impact in east Asia. The onset of a year that became defi ned by the pandemic seems both exceedingly long ago and painfully fresh in the memory. Most people’s lives have been affected. For society’s most vulnerable and marginalized, it has exacerbated problems already familiar to them: food insecurity, unstable housing, social isolation, income, and access to social services as they are weakened at a time they’re needed most. Street papers, which exist to alleviate that strain – providing employment to those who are homeless, in poverty, excluded from the job market or on life’s fringes – have been impacted too. It’s been hard, but the effects they’ve felt have not been uniform. For every group that has found times tough, there have been some glimmers of light. The new year approaches, and with it some hope that there is an end of the coronavirus tunnel in sight – a vaccine, and the potential for homeless, refugees, and other marginalized people to receive it early on – even if the social and structural consequences of the pandemic may be felt into the future. INSP checked in with street paper vendors of differing circumstances across the world to refl ect on these past months and to look forward – sometimes with an understandable sense of anxiety, and sometimes with hope. Japan The Big Issue Japan, along with other east Asian street papers, was the fi rst to understand how the coronavirus may affect their work and the lives of the country’s socially excluded population. “People were gone, and sales were Page 8 in the single digits, sometimes zero,” says a 64-year-old Tokyo-based vendor who only wants to be identifi ed as ‘ST’. The initial slump in his income was made up by support from the magazine’s fundraising and a special subscription service developed in response to the pandemic. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without it,” he says. ST has been living in a 7.3 square meter room with a roommate for over a decade. “It makes me feel safe because it’s a private space with a roof. I’m not a materialistic person, so here with just a futon to sleep on is enough for me,” he says. began, he has had to move slightly further away from this spot due to restrictions on who can freely go in and out of the university entrance. He no longer fi nds it so easy catching the eyes of students as the fl ow out. “On campus, students passing by could see me when they went out for lunch, but now sitting in this small corner, who would notice?” he bemoans. “You can’t enter the school even if you go to the bathroom, you have to go to the McDonald’s across the street.” Li has also struggled with lower back pain and bone spurs this year. He can’t manage to bring back issues of the magazine to his pitch anymore which are often popular with his customers, missing out on vital income. “Taiwan’s virus prevention results are very good,” says Li, more optimistically, “unlike other countries, which have been locked down for several months. So, I have not been afraid Faktum vendor Thomas Jakobsson. [Courtesy of Faktum] customers who would usually be away on holiday stayed in the cities. “We are in the front line when we sell the street paper, but I don’t have much choice. I need the money,” says 58-year-old Faktum vendor Thomas Jakobsson about his experiences these past months. “For a month now I’ve had my own apartment, but before I lived at a place which I shared with other people. And I knew they had coronavirus there. Food was served at a buffet table and that didn’t feel safe. I tried to keep my distance because I don’t want to get sick. Big Issue Japan vendor ‘S.T.’ (he does not want to reveal his identity) at his pitch in Tokyo. [Courtesofof The Big Issue Japan] ST still has anxieties about being on trains and in public bathrooms and supermarkets because of the virus despite the precautions he takes, and worries deeply about how the pandemic has run roughshod on the city’s businesses. “I started walking. At one point, I was surprised to see more people in the park than usual. I guess we all think the same way,” says ST. “When I went for a walk the other day, I was stunned to see there were only two stores open in the shopping arcade I passed. It was painful to see the posters of ‘temporarily shut down’ or ‘closed’. A few of the izakaya and restaurants had banners saying: ‘We will go out of business if we don’t do something. Please help us’. “I still can’t fi nd hope for 2021. Rather than hope, I’m more concerned about whether we’ll really host the Olympics in Tokyo. Vaccines, athletes, visitors from overseas…would people enjoy it? I’m optimistic that the world returns to normal with the end of COVID, but it’s diffi cult to predict what will happen right now.” Taiwan Every morning at 11am, Li Longzhu places a small wooden stool just inside an entrance of National Chengchi University in Taipei, ready for a day of selling The Big Issue Taiwan. Unfortunately, since the pandemic “I’m such a cuddly and physical person so I think it’s shitty. I used to give a hug to people when they bought the paper sometimes, but that isn’t possible anymore.” Thomas has spent the pandemic getting sober and writing an autobiographical story for a book Faktum is publishing. Big Issue Taiwan vendor Li Longzhu. [Credit: / The Big Issue Taiwan] from beginning to end. After all, there are few cases here, and I am also very open to life and death. I can tell you that people have great desires and great worries. Since this larger situation cannot be controlled, worry only adds to the trouble. “I hope [next year] can reduce a little pain, for the world and my back!” The Big Issue Taiwan has been successful in supporting vendors, adopting a ‘pay it forward’ scheme in collaboration with SinoPac Bank, similar to the one devised by The Big Issue (UK). The magazine also worked with a local social enterprise to regularly handout free rice to vendors who have been particularly hard up. Sweden Sweden has turned heads with its hands-off approach to the pandemic. For those selling street papers, it has meant there has been little disruption to their ability to earn an income. Gothenburg-based magazine Faktum did not have to halt selling or pull its vendors from the street. Vendors even saw an increase in sales as regular “‘Thank goodness’, that’s what I feel for 2021,” says Thomas. “Hopefully COVID has calmed down and, since I’ve become sober, I can move on. I have contact with my children again. My daughter said ‘Dad, it feels like you came back from the dead’. I’m so happy about that. “I have positive things to look forward to. I try to spread joy. And when you give, you get back. It’s easy, yet diffi cult.” South Africa Big Issue South Africa vendor Shadrack Rolihlahla, 57, lives in Delft, a township in Cape Town, where crime and poverty is high. According to the street paper’s social work team, since the pandemic began, crime has increased as unemployment is high. “I do not feel safe as people are being killed every day due to violence,” says Shadrack. “In my community, people are suffering. Some people lost their jobs and people died from COVID-19. Since [the pandemic started] we do not have access to social services or health facilities. Everything is like watching a movie –

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