Those familiar with street papers — people who buy them, people who read them, people who make them, people who support them — know what a street paper is: an enterprising solution to poverty, a sustainable income provider to those unable to find a job, an empowerment tool for those who are vulnerable or marginalised, on the fringes of society.
But it is the people who sell these magazines and newspapers — on the streets, outside shops, in train stations, at busy intersections — who know what a street paper truly means, what it represents.
The International Network of Street Papers asked these people — variously called sellers, salespeople, vendors, ‘Spokespersons for Culture’, camelots, Verkäufer*innen — what a street paper is to them, personally. Responses were varied and came from a vast geographical span, highlighting the diversity of people and ways of thinking amongst this network.
Clóvis Francisco, 55, sells Aurora da Rua in Salvador, Brazil.
“To me, a street paper is sobriety and security. It allows me to live a dignified life, far from my addiction to alcohol. Selling Aurora da Rua was the best choice I could have made. Even in the pandemic, I managed to keep my income, as my point of sale allows me to access people in a safe and peaceful way. Everyone wants to know my life story.”
Brian Augustine sells The Denver VOICE in Denver, Colorado, USA.
“A street paper allows you to become part of regular society. When you become homeless, you quickly understand that you’re separated. You realize there are two different worlds. Through the VOICE, I’ve gained more friends than I’ve ever had in my life.”
Rudolf Druschke, 65, sells fiftyfifty in Düsseldorf, Germany
“To me, fiftyfifty means not giving up. It means the courage to start your life over and level the playing field. I wandered the streets for a long time before I came across fiftyfifty in 1995. I was an alcoholic and it caused me to lose my job, my livelihood, my marriage, my colleagues, my friends and even contact with my children. The street paper gave me the courage to get help and I have now been sober for 22 years.”
Hosea’ Hill sells Groundcover News in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
“Street papers have a sort of superpower. They give all people a direct contact to the homeless in their communities and a platform and voice to discuss homelessness and social issues. They make people care about those who are homeless and conjure a deep appreciation for street papers because of that.”
La Shawn Courtwright sells Groundcover in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
“A street paper can and has the ability to change lives and perspectives. It embodies hope. Some people lack this due to the unforseen events that impact their lives. I am now a published author in part because I found that hope reachable and I had a tool to usher that dream. The name of my book is “The Fold: A Collection of Poetry.” Things may not manifest immediately; they are not always impossibilities. The opportunity to try and assert oneself defeats fear of failure. Thanks to street paper Groundcover News I have changed my direction and continue to be the master of my destiny!”
James Tennant sells Groundcover News in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
“A street paper is support. Support for people. It is constructive work and makes people self-sufficient, like for people coming out of the prison system because they can’t get hired. It’s a great support to the community. We come together and help each other.”
Jesper Bisgaard, 29, sells Hus Forbi in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“Hus Forbi has been an ultimatum for me. I wouldn’t be alive today without it. That’s the truth. [The street paper] prevents me from falling into deep holes and not caring about my body and health. [Those who sell it] are one and all lovely people who haven’t had an easy journey. Instead of being alone, we are a bunch of people who can meet all over Denmark. And if it’s not going so well, we help each other the best we can.”
Enkete Mungbaba, 68, is from Congo and used to be a philosophy professor. Now he sells Iso Numero in Helsinki, Finland.
“For me the magazine means sivistys [a Finnish word meaning “self-cultivation” or “gaining wisdom” on a personal level]. That goes for myself. It is very important that I read Finnish every day and learn more of the language. Since I sell the magazine, I have to understand what the headlines and stories mean. I want everyone to read it.”
Memet Kamber sells Lice v Lice in North Macedonia.
“For me, street papers mean a lot more than just a job to go to! It means inspiration – I enjoy rap and hip-hop music and, while I’m on the streets, it inspires the songs I write. Communicating with different people is very important – it gives me a sense of belonging. That moves me!”
Nenad Srbinovski, 30, sells Liceulice in Belgrade, Serbia.
“The street paper relaxes me. I like to sell it and I’m good at it, and that calms me down and makes me happy. I got used to both nice words and criticism.”
Agathe Melançon, 51, sells L’Itinéraire in Montréal, Québec, Canada.
“For me, L’Itinéraire is belonging. I feel that I am part of a great team. We get a helping hand and benefit from having people around us, breaking out of isolation, talking with people, having a space to communicate, especially when we write for the street paper. It allows you to have a little extra income and a flexible schedule. And street papers create awareness of the reality of people living on the street and in poverty. L’Itinéraire helps me a lot: I sometimes take grocery bags from Moisson Montréal, a food bank that partners with our organization. The intervention workers are good listeners. They helped me after the death of my mother recently. It’s good to have people around who don’t judge me and take me as I am.”
Mark Irvine, 70, sells Megaphone in Vancouver, Canada. He also takes photos for the street paper’s annual ‘Hope in Shadows’ calendar.
“Street papers — especially Megaphone — foster curiosity in what’s going on in your own backyard. The focus is on local happenings, achievements and developments in the neighbourhood. Selling Megaphone has given me a different perspective. It has also made me a more outgoing person. It’s the interaction with customers, most of whom I don’t even know by name, even the regular ones, that make selling the magazine all worthwhile. They are really helping me come out of a hard period. It has been a bright light in a dark time. It’s become about more than just making money, it’s a chance to connect with the community.”
Martin sells Nový Prostor in Prague, Czech Republic.
“The street paper means a lot to me. I had an accident, I was hit by a car, then I was in coma and I deal with lifelong consequences. I feel dizzy and can’t do hard work, so I’m glad that I can sell Nový Prostor. If it didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have money to live.”
José Fernandes Junior, 54, sells Ocas” in São Paulo, Brazil.
“The street paper saved my life. That’s not an exaggeration. It was a way out for me – it helped me get out of a catastrophic situation when I found myself homeless. It has given me work, dignity and several friends.”
Claudo Bongiovani Azevedo, 71, sells Ocas” in São Paulo, Brazil.
“Ocas” changed my life. It has been fundamental for me since 2004. It entered my life in a dark period, when I was living on the streets. I lived in that situation for 11 months. But by selling this magazine, I was able to change my life because with the money I made I was able to pay for a place to live and food to eat. I became a normal man that was living collectively again. It allowed me to study, to learn English, to become a published writer. I am going to be a member of the Ocas” project for as long as I am alive and as long as the magazine is released.”
Roberto Francisco dos Santos, 54, sells Ocas” in São Paulo, Brazil.
“The street paper is my ganha pão, a Brazilian expression that means ‘with this job, I can live’.
Fotis Adamopoulos, 67, sells Shedia in Greece.
“Shedia was rediscovery for me. I regained my self-confidence and dignity and became connected again with society. When I sold my first magazine, I felt like the happiest person in the world. It was my first money for a very long time. The street paper — its people, its readers — is my family. They surround me with so much love.”
Marian sells The Big Issue Australia in Melbourne, Australia.
“Selling the street paper, I have felt myself open up and become more flexible. The dynamics at The Big Issue are very open, friendly and supportive. The people are so warm and it’s really lovely to go there. It’s set up to help people and they do just that. It’s also good getting to know the other vendors and know we’re all part of something. There’s a real sense of community which is very nourishing and helpful. It’s also a means to generate a meaningful income, which offers potential for me to make positive changes in my life, to overcome fears, to take up old interests and explore new ones. It allows me to engage and see people, and be part of the life of the city. It also allows me to understand the struggles of life and how we all need to be seen and heard. Everybody has a story behind them.”
Keith D. sells The Contributor in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
“The street paper is my livelihood. It pays my rent, it pays my utilities, it pays my…everything. This is my job, this is my business: I enjoy doing it and, if it wasn’t for this, I have no idea what I’d be doing. It’s now been ten years [selling The Contributor]. I was gonna quit doing it eight years ago – I had a job lined up and everything. Then I got hit by a car, smashed both my shoulders, shattered, and, you know, metal everywhere in my leg meant I couldn’t do the job. In fact, it was hard to do anything for a long time. I was in the hospital for 55 days. So, I’m really glad [I have the street paper].”
Joe Taylor, 46, sells Toledo Streets in Toledo, Ohio, USA.
“A street paper is a Godsend. It’s a chance to get out and meet new people, a chance to make an income. It’s a lifeline for people that have no other access to things that they can really use.”
Marcus Vinicius sells Traços in Brasília, Brazil.
“Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. However, these rights end up being denied in several places. Therefore, it is important to value the role of street papers in the reintegration of vulnerable populations so that they have access to an education, income, and social and psychological assistance. I have personally witnessed how a street paper — Traços — has transformed my life. Only in this way will we be able to achieve a more equal and dignified society for all.”
Courtesy of the International Network of Street Papers, compiled by Tony Inglis
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