Society often has a negative stance on the homeless people and judges them as poor, unsanitary and helpless individuals. It is partly true that the homeless people are materialistically deficient, but they are not helpless beings. They also live with dreams of becoming a contributing citizen and worker in our society. The Big Issue, a street paper publisher, is where the hopeful homeless gain the opportunity to start- or in many cases, restart- their career. The homeless sell magazines, and The Big Issue organizes diverse projects to improve the social perception of the homeless.
If you see a person wearing a red vest selling magazines on the street, there is a high chance that the person is a homeless person working at The Big Issue. The Big Issue is a street newspaper made through talented volunteers and sold by the homeless people. It was founded in the United Kingdom (U.K.) in 1991 with the goal of supplying the homeless with opportunities to return to the mainstream society. The homeless are given a chance to earn legitimate income since they get fifty percent of the income they earn from selling the magazine.
What started in the U.K. with a revolutionary method to aid the homeless was equally adopted in Korea, as The Big Issue Korea was established in July of 2010. The organization that aided its establishment was Angels on the Street, which is a non-profit, non-government organization that aids the independence and self-support of the homeless. In Korea, those who were seriously struck by the IMF crisis in 1997 were driven out of their jobs, and came out to the streets with no home and income.
Lee Sunmi, the head of the sales team in The Big Issue Korea, explained the severity of the problem observed in those who first knock on the door of the organization for a new start. “If you listen to the stories of our vendors, you will notice that they lived with complicated problems that are hard to unravel. They suffer from serious health conditions, do not have a safe place to stay, and are absent of any social connection, even with their own families.” It is for this reason that the homeless cannot escape from their current status single-handedly. Society has to take the initiative in giving systematic help, and the Big Issue is definitely the one doing the job.
The Big Issue Korea has positive revenue these days and the sellers of the magazine, also called bigpans in Korean, are gaining income correspondingly. However, it was not always an easy road for The Big Issue since it faced difficulties when the company was first established. When bigpans went out to the streets to sell magazines, people simply did not buy the magazine because The Big Issue lacked familiarity and popularity. Today, which is 3 years after its establishment, sales of magazine is on a good track. “Now The Big Issue has a considerable reputation thanks to the efforts made by bigpans and the talented folks who donate their time. The talent of famous celebrities has also aided in spreading the name.”
The Big Issue is financially supporting the homeless by giving opportunities to sell magazines and earn a regular income. Along with the sales of magazines, The Big Issue is working on another project to ensure a better future for the homeless. The project is called the Homeless Recognition Improvement Business. Just like the name infers, the project aims to better the citizens’ negative stereotypes of the homeless people. As a result, the general public can become more open and understanding towards embracing the homeless as a member of the society.
Lee mentioned the importance of changing people’s common misconception of the homeless. “People often evade confronting the homeless and sometimes even fear talking to them. Such an attitude may seem like a natural reaction to common people, but it comes as a big emotional scar to the homeless.”Bigpans want people to acknowledge that the homeless are not lazy or dissipated. It takes great effort for them to raise their voice in front of many people and ask them to buy the magazine. Even the smallest change requires significant courage. In short, confidence matters, and the recognition improvement business is a means to boost their self-esteem.
Several projects have been performed under the homeless recognition improvement business, including the homeless World Cup, homeless ballet troupe, Bomnal band, and the Dandelion Project. The incorporation of talented volunteers, citizens and the homeless makes possible the actualization of the business goal, which is multilateral improvement of social recognition and self-esteem.
A recent ongoing project is the Homeless World Cup. The first Homeless World Cup game was held in Austria in 2003, and it is an annual event. Soccer was brought up as a means to convert perception on homeless issues, and to elicit positive energy from the homeless. The Homeless World Cup made it a policy to limit the players’ participation to just once, in hopes of spreading the once-in-a-lifetime chance to as many homeless as possible.
When asked about the Korean players that participated in the World Cup, Lee replied with a positive note:“The biggest transformation seen in the players is their attitude. Before participating in the game, bigpans were rather introverted and emotionally compressed due to the public’s gaze. However, after the game, the players come back with willingness to construct their future career plans. The attitude change itself is a huge leap forward.”
Other projects such as the Homeless ballet troupe and the Bomnal Band promote the homeless to build their own hobbies. Living the life of the homeless gives no time for enjoyment, since they were always chased after financial and emotional pain. The entertainment programs teach homeless people how to express themselves through dancing and instruct them in how to play certain instruments. It is one excellent way to notify the value of having at least one hobby, and it works as a motivation for them to continue the given activity. Professional ballet dancers teach bigpans the basic movement of modern dance, and some bigpans have actually performed on stage, such as the Nutcracker. For the Bomnal Band, recitals are held occasionally so that citizens make note of their hard work.
Help is only given to those who deserve it. The bigpans were once roamers around the street with nothing to eat and nowhere to go. Now, they are becoming individuals that deserve help as they exhibit their hopes, their dreams and their wills. The Big Issue Korea is in their 4th year, and still has a long way to go until the day that everyone knows the presence of bigpans. However, they are already making small movements that are sure to create positive changes in the future.