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A bigger issue shines through

Walking through the city you may be greeted by a friendly face clutching a magazine exclaiming, “get your big issue!” This person is a vendor employed to sell an independent, quality publication and above all, “a good read” to the socially conscious. Since 1996, The Big Issue has sold more than 1.5 million magazines throughout Australia, with half of the $4 cover price going to vendors who are homeless and/or long-term unemployed. The small profit is seen as a “hand up” not a “hand out” and helps them to improve their life circumstances. The Big Issue is funded through magazine sales, advertising revenue, sponsors, trusts, philanthropic organisations and the donations of readers. Editorial content is provided by a team of journalists based in Melbourne and from freelance contributors Australia wide, who often cover the current affairs stories that mainstream media don’t like to touch. The Big Issue state manager Jim Petrie said the fortnightly publication provides vendors with more than just an income, but a sense of self worth and pride. “Rather than take handouts, they feel they earn their money. Sometimes it’s the only positive thing to happen to them in their entire lives,” he said. Homelessness, unemployment, family breakdown, psychiatric illness, financial pressure, drugs, alcohol and other substance abuse are just some of the myriad of problems vendors have faced or are facing. Mr Petrie said there are 50 registered vendors in WA covering Perth, Mandurah, Bunbury and Margaret River and up to 30 are selling at any one time. Most of the vendors saw the job as a transitional project to get their lives back on track. The magazine employs vendor support workers in five major Australian cities to support and assist those disadvantaged by providing training and support, motivation, referral to other services, counselling, mentoring, legal advice and social development. The Big Issue WA chairman and professor of economic policy at Curtin University Peter Kenyon said, in WA, the magazine had gone from zero to 3000 sales a fortnight in three years and is currently celebrating its 250th Australian edition. Mr Kenyon assisted in the establishment of the WA round with a funding application to Lotterywest and is part of a board contributing general skills and experience to the organisation. “There are currently five board members but we need another three to four who have professional and/or humanitarian experience and a “belief” in what we are trying to achieve,” he said. The board is in the process of establishing a new strategic business plan which will ensure the financial stability of The Big Issue in the future. The Big Issue is in partnership with The Body Shop WA and city-based Ruah Community Services, a local charity for homeless and disadvantaged people who run the vendor support and training programs.

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