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Southport Reporter

Edition No. 74

Date:- 15 November 2002

BEHIND THE MASK
By Dominic Bonner

HOMELESSNESS is something that most of us have are lucky enough never experience. But for Southport Big Issue in the North vendor Martin (L288) - His tale and involvement with the Big Life Company has had a remarkable turn of fortunes from the bleakest despair into one hope and of being a lifesaver for others and himself.

Martin, 31, from Newcastle, has been homelessness on and off for about 14 years. Much of this time, he has lived in hostels in various parts of the country until recently he found himself in Liverpool. 

Selling the Big Issue has come with its problems. But like most people who are or have been homeless, Martin has suffered many a knock to his confidence during his misfortunes. He has a history of employment, which has been less than stable particularly with ladders, as he fell some 35 feet and punctured his lung a short time ago. His continued ill health led to him being on the trap of the street and hostel life.

But it is selling the Big Issue that has been a great confidence booster. It has made a great difference to his life by helping him in many ways, “I am now 12 months drug free, and no longer using heroin after a 16 year drug addiction. Selling the Big Issue and being involved with the Big Life company has helped me to become drug free.” He adds, “They are helping me to gain my goal in becoming a drug rehabilitation counselor for young people by doing a New Federation course with the local YMCA. In fact, selling the Big Issue is a great incentive for homeless people. It gives you the opportunity to get out there. And they run many courses to re-educate homeless people such as Math’s” – Which Martin has completed successfully.

However, this is one of the many facets of his talents. Not only is he becoming a natural lifesaver for young people. Martin has a great prospect of becoming one of the two goalkeepers for England in the ‘homelessness world cup’. His promising training sessions at Manchester United’s football ground has seen him through to the final 30 of the proposed squad, in which the competition is due to take place next year. But Martin has no such problems with balance on this score and is certain to succeed, ‘It’s looking good as there are not many goalkeepers and my coach has told me I am a natural goal keeper’. He says.

Although cases like Martin’s has it’s own uniqueness. There is a dynamic among all of the homeless. Every case is different in its own way, often the nature of homelessness hides the true story behind the vendor selling the magazine. 

The public is quite often blind to their problems. The magazine becomes a smokescreen in which the person selling the magazine suffers abuse. The whole scenario brings a dilemma over an identity problem between the buying public and vendors who sell it. 
Associated stigmas of drugs and alcohol with vendors often lead to confusion about helping these people, leading to reluctance to contribute to the cause. Yet this is something that could happen to all of us. 

Moreover, Liverpool centre manager of the Big Life Company (which distributes the magazine) Steve Faye is keen to make his point. 
”We realize that much of the stigma behind the magazine in itself has led to a series of negativity from the public when something has gone wrong,” Faye remarks. 
“Perhaps we have been rather reactive than proactive about our message in the past. But things are changing as we try to deal with the many issues of homelessness. We are getting a more positive image across by visiting schools and teaching kids about homelessness. I hope what we are doing now is changing public attitude. After all, I hope that no family has a child that wishes to become a vendor for a vocation in life.” He smiles.

The fact that education itself has been a presiding factor in which the Big Life company aims to break away the path away from homelessness. 

In house courses such as learn to earn, learn to live and learn to work all go some way to break this path. And have a proven track record, and often lead to vendors taking up other popular voluntary courses that Big Life promotes.

But this is only the surface of Big Life. The dynamic vendors bring are a new challenge each day.

 


Recent cases of asylum seekers, ex offenders, vendors with learning difficulties and mental health issues. Forced Big Life to re-evaluate itself and led to the merger earlier this year with other charities to tackle the social problems of its vendor client base.  Although the company’s euphemism is, they are no longer a charity - but somewhere in between a business and a charity. Their pride of innovation with dealing homelessness issues has led to some rocky teething problems in the past. But another planned change for the better is about to take place over the next two years.

A new horizon heralds a glowing future for the Liverpool branch. Times are changing and they moving a considerable way to improving its approach to addressing vendors immediate needs and tackling their own need for larger premises. Relocating to a purpose built building - containing showers, a laundry and greater facilities in which vendors can gain greater education facilities, likely to be in the London Road area of Liverpool.

It would seem that Big Life could do no wrong in its approach to dealing with this social problem. Making certain that homelessness is no longer a Big Issue in Liverpool.

Celebrity Sportsman's Evening.
Photographs by Patrick Trollope.

Friday 8 November, Shorrocks Hill played host to not one, but two sporting personalities.  Ian Callaghan and Brian Labone joined a large group of men for a Banquet with 4 courses and entertainment by the renowned Liverpool comedian Tom Pepper.  The evening was a big success, despite a minor distraction that happened after the meal.  Over all every one was extremely pleased with the night and had a fantastic time. 

Southport Reporter is Trade Mark of Patrick Trollope.   Copyright © Patrick Trollope 2002.