In 2019 after Sean’s third time experiencing homelessness, he became a vendor for The Big Issue and found a home.
From sleeping in a swag behind the Woden Hospital, Sean walked to his new public housing apartment in Monash, in the rain with all his possessions.
“I was in the black beanie and black trench coat that I used to wear,” Sean says.
“I had four bags of dripping clothes and I walked into the apartment and it was completely empty.
“I didn’t have a dry blanket and I didn’t even care.
“I just laughed and got on the floor and slept like a baby.”
Like so many vendors, Sean says The Big Issue has changed his life.
From that first night in his empty apartment to the now proud operator of a home veggie garden, Sean says The Big Issue has given him freedom. “Freedom in here”, he says, pointing to his head, “and out there … if you know what I mean”, pointing outside. Earning his own money in an appropriate environment has restored his sense of dignity.
After a lifetime of tough physical work and a past that includes drug and alcohol addiction that no longer defines him, Sean can’t work “in a warehouse with 60 people”.
He says his past belongs in his past, but he no longer enjoys socialising or people asking him too many questions.
“That’s why The Big Issue is good for me,” Sean says. “It lets me be my own boss.
“Old blokes like me, and there are plenty of us, just want to be left alone.
“The Big Issue is the only real thing I can do, that I can be relaxed, and I can be myself.”
This week’s The Big Issue magazine (Friday 29 January) marks the annual vendor week, highlighting vendors across Australia who are working every day to change their lives positively.
The edition features extra content including the annual vendor ‘Letter to my younger self’ section and a special postcard that readers can use to send in messages to vendors.
Sean says the magazine helps the community better understand the issue of homelessness.
“It creates more interest and people who wouldn’t normally ask, ask.
“Like construction workers. They think it’s just some charity thing, for free, but I spoke to one for 10 minutes the other day and he couldn’t believe it.”
Sean recommends others experiencing homeless and unemployment give being a vendor a go.
“It’s for people with post-trauma, social anxiety, social claustrophobia, mentally impaired, people on parole that don’t want to interact. It’s for everyone. It can help that many people,” he says.
“You can only repair yourself so much later in life.”
For his own medical safety, Sean gave up selling early in March 2020, but when it was safe to return to his regular spot at the Tuggeranong mall, his regulars were back, and his sales were as high as ever.
He said during that time, the two disability pension coronavirus supplements – each of $750 – helped him significantly and this time he was even able to have his best Christmas since he was 16.
He is worried about his friends on Job Seeker, as their payments are due to drop to $550 in March, saying that low amount was a factor in his own homelessness.
“That’s disgusting,” he says. “Really putrid. It should not go one cent lower than it is now.
“$700 a fortnight is not a lot of money.
“That’s why I ended up homeless; I was in … one of the cheapest places in Canberra to rent and I was giving them $440 out of my $610 a fortnight.
“I just lost it a bit and walked out of [there] and onto the streets.”
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