Our Vendors 

Supporting those who need us

Fri, Aug 30, 2013

The global economic crisis has changed the face of street paper vendors in Europe to encompass more families, more children, more migrating Romanians and Bulgarians, said Lisa Maclean, International Network of Street Papers executive director, introducing a forum on “Our Vendors: Who should we be supporting?” at the 17th annual INSP conference in Munich.

BISS Vendor Miladinka Milenkovic, Photo: Suzanne Hanney

BISS Vendor Miladinka Milenkovic, Photo: Suzanne Hanney

The European Union counts four million people as homeless, said Freek Spinnewijn, director of FEANTSA, the European federation of 130 national organizations that works to provide housing and supportive services to the homeless. As in the U.S. the European homeless stereotype of a middle-aged man who is alcoholic or who has mental health issues is changing, Spinnewijn said. Unaffordable housing is one cause of increased homelessness but so is unemployment and youth migration. Youth homelessness is up 100 percent over the last couple of years.

Who should street newspapers support?

The answer appeared to be “those who come to us for help” – even if they are not citizens of the host country, according to a panel of street paper members.

Romanian and Bulgarian Roma have comprised 40 percent of vendors for The Big Issue in the North for the last three years, said Fay Selvan, group chief executive of the magazine published in Manchester, England. Roma, also known as “gypsies,” have the right to migrate across Europe but not necessarily to access employment.

Selvan said some people told her to forbid Roma from selling the magazine so they would go home. She compared that statement to racism against Jews or blacks, she told the audience. The magazine ultimately chose to defend the Romas’ right as human beings to live in the UK and to earn a living along with traditional clients.

“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,” Selvan said.

Since 2007 the area around Dortmund in north central Germany has drawn more Romanians and Bulgarians who are excluded from normal social welfare systems, said Bastian Putter, editor-in-chief of Bodo. The Roma have made a living in day labor, begging and prostitution amid xenophobic and racist press. The newspaper has also started alternative jobs: a used bookstore and a moving company.

Putter said he was concerned about the ability to provide for unquantified and diverse needs of Roma families. Delegates conversed about the need to overcome the Roma language barrier and to provide childcare while simultaneously serving existing vendors.

[From left to right] INSP Executive Director Lisa Maclean, BISS Managing Director Hildegard Denninger, and INSP Chairman and L’Itineraire Publisher Serge Lareault. Photo: Stephanie Dillig

[From left to right] INSP Executive Director Lisa Maclean, BISS Managing Director Hildegard Denninger, and INSP Chairman and L’Itineraire Publisher Serge Lareault. Photo: Stephanie Dillig

There were more than 100,000 Roma in both Germany and England in 2011, or about 0.3 percent of the population, according to Spiegel magazine online. However, Roma comprise more than nine percent of the population in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Slovakia. There are 250,000 Roma among 10 million in Czechoslovakia, where real estate companies pay them to abandon city centers for remote towns near the German border and charge them exorbitant rates for water and utilities. Roma are less likely to be hired for regular jobs than other Europeans, so when conditions get too hard, they migrate elsewhere.

Putter said that in five years, if Romanians and Bulgarians were allowed to work as vendors and to have their kids in school, it would stabilize them.

If selling the newspaper is considered work, it would also allow vendors to access government-supported housing, Spinnewijn said.

INSP will seek to partner with FEANTSA in the future, said Helen Harvey, INSP projects officer.
But is selling a street paper a job or a short-term charity?

A two-year limit on selling The Big Issue in the North failed, Selvan said. Successful vendors wound up back on the streets begging, so she realized the need to keep opportunities open.

The new street paper Shedia, started in February in Athens, is also unlikely to impose time limits on vendors, said Editor-in-Chief Chris Alefantis. Shedia has not turned anyone away but it does require vendors to speak Greek. While he would like to employ asylum-seekers, Alefantis said he fears reprisals from reactionaries. The paper has 125 vendors, nearly 1 in 3 of them women.

“A lot are in their 40s and early 50s; they don’t stand a chance of getting a job with the official unemployment rate of 28 percent in Greece,” Alefantis said. Youth employment, meanwhile, is 60 percent.

The recession of 2009 has also prompted young homeless people to come to The Big Issue Japan, said Noriko Senaha, program coordinator. The magazine’s research showed that half of these young people were not raised by traditional families but by single parents, stepparents — and even orphanages, because of child abuse.

Social mores played a role in homelessness as women facing pressure to raise a good child may have quit their jobs, Senaha said. Because of the recession, they could not find new employment. Many of them had to move far away from their families, which has deprived them of a grandmother’s traditional support.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is still recovering from the 2011 earthquake/tsunami that killed 28,000 people, so social benefits are likely to be decreased. Sales of The Big Issue have also dropped 10 percent since that disaster.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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