“I do a lot of different things that keep me happy, healthy and busy in life. Megaphone's one of them, and it's an important part of it,” says Hendrik Beune, who started selling the Vancouver street paper in 2009.
“Selling the paper gets me out on my bicycle, doing deliveries to my regular customers in the DTES [Downtown Eastside] and it gets me to the farmers markets, where I sell to the public. This contributes to a healthy lifestyle - I am not cooped up inside behind a computer all the time.”
Another bonus for Hendrik is getting to meet and engage with new people on a daily basis. “I have conversations with my customers about everything!" he adds. “I often get asked if I'm homeless - that's a common misconception. No, I'm not homeless, but I was virtually homeless for a long time.”
Originally from the Netherlands, Hendrik moved to Canada when he was 19 to study biology. His cousin, who lives in Edmonton, helped to get him accepted to the University of Alberta but, after hearing that Vancouver was known as “the San Francisco of the North” he went to UBC instead to earn a degree in Zoology and Ecology.
After graduating, Hendrik spent decades on the west coast surveying watersheds, building boats, and farming shellfish until a back injury sidelined him from physical work. He then moved with his wife and two children to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“I moved out of a dingy, rat-infested SRO hotel into something decent in 2010. Before that, I didn't have much choice. Not being able to work and receiving no compensation, I ended up on the street for a while until I finally received some help from social services,” Hendrik recalls.
“I had never been on 'welfare' before in my life. I was too proud and always managed to get by somehow, but I could barely walk when I got to Vancouver and after three days without food, I was persuaded to stand in line for a food handout. I got to meet people from different strokes and learned how to access the social services system. That was an education all by itself."
"Thank you for opening my mind & heart to the stories of my city." Donor note today left us all with the sniffles. pic.twitter.com/sTY12uJvxB
— Megaphone Magazine (@MegaphoneMag) December 4, 2014
In 2009, Hendrik heard about Megaphone and been working as a street newspaper vendor ever since.
He says: "Most people work for a mortgage. Then you've got us, who are free on the streets if you can handle not to get enslaved with drugs.
"But I kind of like how people are different and living together in the same city. Building those connections is really important: I think that's the main goal for me and also the purpose of Megaphone.
"The stories in Megaphone are written from the perspective of the other side of society that's often despised and looked down upon," Hendrik continues. "These are real people with real lives and Megaphone helps to personalise them and gives them respect for their struggles.
“We've got so much unrecognised talent here, if people really connected and got to know each other better and bridged those barriers that make some people seem different and unacceptable to others, then we can have a truly mixed, wholesome society where people work together and create a common good.”
Original interview by Megaphone's Jackie Wong.
Megaphone is sold on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria by homeless and low-income vendors. Vendors buy the magazine for 75 cents and sell it for $2, keeping the profit and earning a sense of pride and dignity.