The Big Issue puts out its 500th edition as Peter finds self-esteem on the streets as a vendor
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The Big Issue puts out its 500th edition as Peter finds self-esteem on the streets as a vendor

Peter, a vendor for The Big Issue in Canberra, still shudders as he remembers being homeless in Sydney.

"I slept two nights at Central railway station, that was pretty scary," he said.

Peter sells The Big Issue street magazine at various locations including the busy pedestrian crossing at the Canberra Centre. He says hundreds of people might pass by before he sells a single copy.

Peter sells The Big Issue street magazine at various locations including the busy pedestrian crossing at the Canberra Centre. He says hundreds of people might pass by before he sells a single copy.Credit:Jay Cronan

"I spent four days in a men's hostel. I had to pay for that because I wasn't an Australian citizen. There were 20 guys all bunked up. You really had to sleep with one eye open.

"I was in and out of hostels for six months in Newtown. The postcard image of Sydney is not what you see.

"You might go to a cafe in Newtown but down the laneway someone is shooting up or sleeping in the park. It scared the bejesus out of me."

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Life is much more certain and less stressful for 51-year-old Peter who sells The Big Issue at the Canberra Centre near the Aldi pedestrian crossing, at Woden and in Manuka.

He's been selling the much-loved street magazine for two years since he moved to Canberra with the help of a friend. Now on the Newstart allowance, he has also secured a casual job and rented a place in Queanbeyan with his partner Genice.

"Without [The Big Issue], I would have been pretty stuck," he said.

"It gets people out into the community, it teaches people how to communicate, how to handle money, how to make money."

The Big Issue – a lifeline for Peter and tens of thousands of other vulnerable people over the last two decades – released its 500th edition on Friday.

The fortnightly magazine, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, was launched in Melbourne to create job opportunities for homeless and disadvantaged people.

The Big Issue chief executive officer Steven Persson said more than 10 million copies of the magazine had since been sold around Australia, putting $21 million into the pockets of sellers.

The magazine, which now sells for $7 a copy, sees half the cover price go to the vendors. In Canberra, there are about 25 registered vendors who are managed by the Woden Community Service.

"Around 500 people sell the magazine across the country each fortnight – rain, hail or shine," Mr Persson said.

Peter, a New Zealander. worked in retail before he moved to Australia seven years ago and fell on hard times.

"It was a combination of bad decisions. It wasn't drugs or alcohol for me and coming to Australia wasn't a bad decision, it was just that it's a lot harder to get work here and keep work," he said.

"You can get a job and be fired two days later. You can be put on trial for a job and at the end of it they tell you you're no good and you can't do anything about it."

Peter, who became an Australian citizen six months ago, said it was not easy selling the magazine but he was happy to do it.

"Hundreds of people go past and we might sell one copy," he said.

"But I've had lots of positive comments from customers saying, 'It's good that you're trying to do something for yourself'."

There is little room for luxuries for Peter and Genice​ but they do allow themselves one indulgence once the rent and food and other basics are covered.

"Lego. Yeah. We both love Lego," he said, with a smile.

"I've just started a casual job and I'm hoping to get paid today so I can pick up my Lego lay-byes. Happy days.

"We don't drink. We don't do drugs. It's not like we can't afford to have a beer, we just can't be bothered. We'd rather do Lego."