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Scratching a living from Big Issue

It’s tough being homeless in Hastings, and all the more so in times of recession. Joe, 52, sells Big Issue in an attempt to make a living but it’s an uphill struggle, as he explained to reporter NICK TERDRE. Photo by BRIAN RYBOLT.

Joe is a familiar figure stood at his pitch in the pedestrian precinct in the town centre. Plenty of shoppers pass by, but that doesn’t guarantee good business – too often he sells only a handful, leaving him with little to get by on. “When the recession hit, my sales dropped dramatically,” Joe says. “Instead of selling 12-15 a day, it went down to 5 or 6.”

Big Issue offers homeless people a way of working as a first step out of poverty – of the cover price of £1.50, half goes to the vendor. But even at 75p a time, you have to sell a fair number to make a reasonable amount.

For Joe the economics get worse because the issues have to be picked up in Brighton, an £11 train fare away. His squat-mate does the collecting but they share the cost, which comes out of their takings. On top of that, there’s no sale or return. “If we don’t sell any copies, we don’t get our money back,” says Joe.

Few takers

Working beats begging, but apart from a few regular customers, it seems there isn’t much appetite for Big Issue among the local shoppers. “When it rains, everybody has blinkers,” Joe says. “They only want to get what they came into town for and get off home.” And when it’s very hot, they just want to get to the beach.

“It annoys me that I can stand there and people just ignore me. It makes me ashamed to ask the next people that come along. “Some people give me the odd 50p – if it weren’t for them, or the people who buy the mag but don’t take it, I wouldn’t still be here,” he says.

Paying a high price

Joe’s troubles began in his mid thirties when he became addicted to heroin. Now he’s receiving treatment and has been clean for three and a half years. He has paid a high price for his addiction, not least losing contact with his three sons who are now aged between 16 and 20.

He used to work as a tattooist, but sees little hope of returning to his trade. To get started again would require a capital boost that isn’t going to materialise from his Big Issue takings. “I’ve been trying to get a grant off the dole but they won’t help you out if you’re a tattooist,” he says. “Just once a job for a tattooist came up and then they didn’t inform me.”

Posted 21:11 Sunday, Dec 20, 2009 In: Hastings People

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