The organisation is made up of two parts; a limited company which produces and distributes a magazineto a network of street vendors, and a registered charity which exists to help those vendors gain control of their lives by addressing the issues which have contributed to their homelessness.
It is a legitimate way of earning an income. They buy each copy for 85p. For each issue they sell (£1.70), they make an 85p profit. So to earn £50 a day, they need to sell over 40 copies per day. Rain, shine, whenever. What they don't sell, they don't get to get the money back for it. Every Big Issue vendor I have come across has always been smiley, unhassling, funny and dignified. This job is usually the only one they have.
I have a lot of admiration for Big Issue sellers. Its a bloody hard job, especially in a place like London where people can be walking past hundreds of others each day but won't even look up to smile at anyone. Its easy to say 'oh in Britain, there is no reason to be homeless' or 'they must all be drunks or druggies'. I've never saw it like that when it came to homelessness. Even if someone is a drug addict or alcoholic, who chooses to be one? If anything, they need help in getting rid of those demons. As with anything, I think life can just get in the way sometimes and people just end up where they never thought they would be. Next time you see a vendor, chat to him or her. They aren't invisible. They all have unique stories to tell. The Big Issue magazine itself is great. Reviews, interviews of pop culture, as well as really good articles on social awareness. Pick one up next time, you know your money will be going to helping someone. Check out their website, its really informative.
The Big Issue is a brilliant concept and I wish there was something similar like this everywhere in the world. Maybe there is, I would be interested to know. But the work it does can only sustain with our help. Giving £2 to a vendor for a magazine instead of picking up a latte on the way to work or school is just a tiny sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.
There is so much more I want to say about little ways of giving charity but I'll save it for another post or this will turn into an essay. I hope I haven't come across too 'preachy' - hate those type of people!
p.s my Big Issue guy stands just outside Pret a Manger on High Holborn, near the station :)