13 October 2010

PRESS RELEASE: 200,000 helped out of homelessness by global street paper network

Latest figures released to mark UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17th October):

  • Over 200,000 vendors earned a living through street paper sales since 1994
  • 71 per cent of papers helped vendors get out of homelessness
  • 84 per cent say selling the papers improved vendors' wellbeing
  • A quarter of papers are involved in creating policy change on housing and homelessness in their home city or region
  • 114 street papers and magazines now spread across 40 countries

"The street papers have been such a vital route to a more positive existence for so many of those 200,000 sellers, and we will continue to build on that progress." - Lisa Maclean, executive director, INSP

THE organisation behind a network of over a hundred street papers and magazines, sold in some countries under the ‘Big Issue' brand, has revealed new figures which show more that 200,000 people have been helped out of homelessness by selling the titles.

The findings have been released by the Glasgow-based International Network of Street Papers (INSP) to coincide with the UN's annual International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17th October), when people around the globe will be asked to remind themselves of the need to promote awareness of poverty and destitution, particularly in developing countries.

INSP's research shows that up to last year, 71 per cent of street papers helped their vendors get off the streets.

Some 84 per cent of those polled said selling the papers improved their wellbeing; and almost 90 per cent said they increased their confidence.

And a quarter of the papers are now being credited with being involved in creating policy change on housing and homelessness in their home city or region.

INSP's executive director Lisa Maclean says the findings underline what an impact the street paper network has had on homeless communities involved.

She describes hitting the 200,000 mark as "a huge milestone" for the organisation launched in 1994 with just a handful of papers sold by a few hundred vendors.

There are now 114 street papers spread across 40 countries, and expansion plans will continue, she says, especially in Africa, where there has been a particular growth in vendors and titles.

"The street papers have been such a vital route to a more positive existence for so many of those 200,000 sellers, and we will continue to build on that progress," says Maclean.

The concept behind the INSP street paper movement is a simple one. Vendors buy a paper at cost price and sell it for the cover price, keeping the proceeds.

"The street paper concept is a hand-up, not a hand-out", says Maclean. "Vendors work hard for their money. Every day, they hit the streets with the latest edition of their paper or magazine."

"Vendors sell from their designated pitch in busy shopping streets, outside malls or in front of office buildings, hospitals, universities, sports grounds or train stations. They're there, come rain or shine, working to earn their own living in an increasingly challenging media climate."

But providing an income is only the first tool street papers use to tackle homelessness and exclusion. As Maclean explains: "Being a vendor means they can also access a range of other services provided and arranged by INSP street papers, such as sales training, drug and alcohol counselling and housing support."

Several street paper projects also run savings programs and art and literacy classes or organise rehabilitative sports activities.

Maclean says that INSP's role is to "unite and support" street papers in some of the world's biggest cities like London, Cape Town, Chicago and Tokyo.

In addition, the organisation just launched its Street News Service (SNS) to the public. A multilingual online news agency, the SNS (www.streetnewsservice.org) brings together the best content from titles around the world. Some 75 volunteer translators help translate articles in any of the network's 24 languages.

SNS editor Danielle Batist says that by republishing articles from one another free of charge, street papers - "a unique voice on the street in so many cities" - will strengthen each other's content. The service also produces in-house content.

It's hoped the site's content will appeal to a diverse readership, including mainstream media, NGOs and government. To help it achieve that, SNS is backed by two global news heavyweights in the shape of Reuters and the Rome-based development news service, Inter Press Service (IPS). Channel 4's anchor man Jon Snow serves as a Patron of the SNS. Managing Editor of the Herald & Times Group Tom Thomson is its Honorary Editor.

"Through our huge network of street papers, we can provide an international audience with an on-the-ground perspective on a variety of global and local issues. We give a voice to the voiceless through actual vendor stories and first-hand accounts of people affected by poverty and social injustice.

"At the same time we recognise the need for ‘lighter' stories, like inspirational interviews with celebrities," says Batist.

"But at all times, we aim to trigger something inside our readers, making them question the world around them and change their mindset towards poverty and homelessness."

Steven Robert is a vendor in Cape Town, South Africa, and he says that like so many people who now sell one of the many street titles, he moved to the city as a teenager with big dreams.

"But without money or a job, I roamed the streets, struggling to meet my basic needs. It was through the street paper that I brought back purpose in my life.

"Life is still not easy for me. I live in a homeless shelter, but at least I'm earning an income selling The Big Issue South Africa. I go to my pitch and get on with the business of selling the magazine.

"My dream is to have place of my own. I'd like to set up a small home-based business as I am now a good salesman. I tell other vendors to keep pushing forward with the skills that they have and to never give up."


For more information and high res images, please contact Maree Aldam (m.aldam@street-papers.org)