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Monday, June 14, 2021

The Big Issue’s big return

When The Big Issue returns to the streets today it will mark the end of a three-month COVID-related hiatus.

That time away has cost the magazine’s vendors their income, community connection, social engagement, and a sense of purpose and worthiness that comes from having a job.

For vendor Claire, it meant time away from the Lyneham shops where she felt supported by local business and had regular customers who brought positivity to her day.

“It’s a very kind area,” she said. “They make me feel wanted and necessary.”

Claire has been selling The Big Issue for around a year, she works from 10am to 5pm most days and sells about 10 magazines. She said it keeps her sane.

“It gives me money and purpose,” Claire said. 

“If I didn’t have it, I would be so ashamed, I would not be able to breathe.

“We all need to do something, and this is something I can feel proud of.

“It’s given me a life.”

But the life Claire has forged for herself has not come easy. 

Forced out of a Melbourne Anglicare group home at 16, she remained homeless for thirty-five years while battling poverty, addiction and poor mental health.

She said she felt abandoned and rejected from society.

As an intersex woman, Claire said she was turned away from both male and female shelters and forced to sleep rough.

Her most secure accommodation was prison.

“They put me in jail because they didn’t know where else to put me,” she said.

“Once you’ve been thrown in prison – you’re tainted – you can barely get work.

“They’ve taken 8 years of my life for petty crap and for being homeless.”

Claire moved from state-to-state looking for a place that would accept her.

“I kept thinking, surely it will be better at the next place,” she said. “Surely I can find a place where they will let me be me.”

Claire said although it’s not perfect, Canberra is that place.

“Canberra is a place for inclusiveness, enough has changed and I know when I’m being treated pretty ok and Canberra has been the best to me,” she said.

Claire arrived here three years ago and has since achieved much growth, stability and understanding.

She now has support workers she trusts; she’s been connected to the national disability insurance scheme and has settled into her first secure home.

“It’s the first place I’ve lived where nobody can just kick me out or control me,” she said.

“I’m just settling in and taking a breather.”

But the compounding effects of coronavirus have threatened the life Claire has worked so hard for.

The loss of her magazine revenue forced her to live solely off her disability support wage – one of the only social security entitlements not to be raised by the government for economic stimulus – and she has struggled immensely.

“After rent, electricity and internet I have about $280 a fortnight for food and everything else,” she said.

“It’s been torture, it’s been hell.”

Money aside, coronavirus has left Claire socially isolated, with more time with her own thoughts.

“I’m just sitting at home alone doing nothing but reflecting on how the world has done me over and how angry I am and then those thoughts make me depressed.

“It becomes a rebounding game of yuck – with nothing to do but drive myself crazy.

“As much as I’d like to think I’m big and tough and strong and don’t need anyone – I actually do.”

With the return of The Big Issue, Claire is looking forward to a better quality of life and can’t wait to get back to Lyneham.

The Big Issue business model was developed in the UK by the founders of the Body Shop.

Vendors buy stock at $4.50 per magazine and sell them for $9.

The structure is designed for vendors to develop business skills while they earn a living so they can move on and do other things in life.

Off the back of writing a successful article about life in lockdown, Claire’s next big ambition is to write her own story.

“Telling my story is the only way I will ever really heal,” she said.

“My support worker reminds me I’m worth listening to.”

“Everybody suffers and everybody goes through pain, remember yours and the next time you see someone in the streets, look at that person and just wonder what theirs is.”

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