‘… And then he started shouting at me – “go fuck yourself you scrounging bastard” – so do you know what I did? I gave it to him for free’ explained Michael Dylan, the charming Big Issue seller who is talking to me in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham. Personally, I am a great supporter of any charity that helps the homeless, but I accept that I’m probably in the minority. A lot of people blame the individuals themselves for the circumstance that they have found themselves in, as if anyone would choose to lose everything – their families, their jobs, their homes – and resort to a life on the street. This was Michael’s situation two years ago when he began working for The Big Issue – a charity which gives the homeless the opportunity to earn money for themselves and get their lives back on track.
Amazingly, that is exactly what it has done for Michael, who has left his time on the streets behind and now lives in a small bungalow in Birmingham, one that he proudly tells me ‘has just been plastered.’ I asked him whether or not many people stop to buy the magazine from him, and he tells me that it depends. His humility is heart-warming; he says that it depends on the time of year because in the summer people are saving for their holidays and in the winter people don’t have a lot of spare money because of Christmas. Considering Michael stands out on the street regardless of the weather, six days a week, it is hard to imagine that the vast majority of people simply walk past and ignore that he even exists.
It is unfortunate that many people label Big Issue sellers as ‘beggars’ and ‘scroungers’ when all they are trying to do is make an honest living for themselves. They have to buy the magazines themselves, as well as the obligatory red jacket, and still try to make enough of a profit to live. Almost 100 people a week in the UK turn to The Big Issue in order to make enough money to feed themselves, or try to keep a roof over their heads. Help these people change the paths that their lives have taken – it only costs £2.50.