Photo of Mark from The Big Issue

3 Ways You Can Help The Homeless This Holiday Season

Published on
December 15, 2020
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer

The December holiday season is a time that sees loved ones coming together to celebrate the year gone by. 2020 has been a challenging time for many, with COVID-19 knocking us all around in one way or another. As restrictions lift further, those who are fortunate enough to have a safe home, family and friends can gather to reflect on how far we've come as individuals and as a collective society. 

It is important to remember that the holiday season is a critical time for people living on the margins. After all, it is not always a merry experience for everyone.

We speak to Steven Persson, CEO of The Big Issue, an independent social enterprise dedicated to helping people help themselves. Steven shares opportunities that we, the general community have to take action. He speaks specifically about the initiatives- The Big Issue magazine, Homes for Homes and the Women’s Subscription Enterprise.

“We have to make a shift. We have to address the Issue, which is poverty- and not its symptoms”, he states. 

What is The Big Issue and how can you help?

Source: The Big Issue website

The Big Issue supports and creates work opportunities for people experiencing homelessness, marginalisation and disadvantage. Launched in Melbourne in 1996, the organisation generated $11 million over its first fifteen years. In the last ten years, its vendors have doubled their earnings, making their total revenue come to over $31 million dollars. The Big Issue supports 800 vendors annually in Australia, and this money goes straight into their pockets to help them make ends meet.

This year's lockdown saw a 60% decrease in foot traffic for The Big Issue vendors in Melbourne's CBD, which affected street vendors. This challenge made Steven think about how the organisation delivers its services. “Do we become satisfied, or do we create another way to keep those people’s incomes up, or even enhance it?” The Big Issue focuses on long-term solutions, and Steven and his team have a twinkle in their eyes about how to pivot. This includes diversifying their product suite to provide a greater return to vendors.

Its online channel attracts a sizable audience, making it clear there is emotional and intellectual engagement and interest in The Big Issue. Someone may be online, but it doesn’t mean they are going to visit a vendor. So how do we convert this into opportunities for vendors to maximise their earnings? 

The team is trying to find something that works.

The Big Issue isn't government funded or donations driven. However, word of mouth drives the organisation and earned it an unrivalled reputation. 95% of vendors find out about The Big Issue through their community and choose to come onboard to change their own circumstances.

We are running towards a challenging period in Australian history. With the JobSeeker supplement being reduced on January 1, a study by Equity Economics suggests that combined with the current 7% unemployment rate, we will see 7,500 more people become homeless. JobKeeper is also coming to an end and will result in jobs suffering further, and will affect some businesses abilities to bounce back. “This will flow up to people’s affordability in housing”, Steven warns. 

This Christmas, what can we do to give street vendors the opportunity to help themselves? Now that Melbourne has opened up again, why not buy a magazine for a loved one, and encourage them to buy one for someone else in their lives?

Get onboard Homes For Homes this season

Source: Homes for Homes website. Canberra Raiders donate $20,400, Nov 2020

Homelessness is a symptom of poverty. How can we help? Enter Homes for Homes.

Evidence and research show there are two ways to take people out of homelessness. The first way is to put a roof over people’s heads so they are not 'homeless' anymore. The second is to empower them by providing employment opportunities to earn an income, which will help them work their way out of their circumstances. The cost benefit of the former is overwhelming.

There is a lack of safe, affordable housing for the marginalised. This includes people dealing with veteran affairs, domestic violence, youth unemployment or indigenous affairs. Australia is currently short of 600,000 properties and without our interference, we can expect to be short of over 1 million properties in 20 years time.


“There is not enough money available to build further properties. After looking at the issue, we started potentially one of the largest crowdfunding exercises in the world”. 


If you’re fortunate enough to own a home, you can make a voluntary donation to Homes for Homes. It is an initiative that raises funds to increase the supply of social and affordable housing, through the sale and resale of properties. Participating home owners opt to donate 0.1% of profits when they sell their house, and you can track where your money goes. "We have a team of experts who distribute funds to relevant organisations'', Steven says. "These organisations help build more social and affordable housing". Homes for Homes aims to raise more than $1 billion dollars over the next 30 years. 

“We have the five top 10 law firms doing work for us, and we have states and territories supporting us in many ways". Steve also notes support from the Green Council of Australia and banking associations. “We are democratising the issue of poverty and affordable housing in a way that we haven't before. So far, it is working”. 

“We are thrilled to already have 12,000 registered properties valued at $41 million with 19 developers, all who are participating in the Homes for Homes program" , he says. Homes for Homes gives you the option to opt out after signing up, but 80% of people don't, and this figure is only rising. 

The Bayside Council in Victoria recently made an announcement that all developments in the area over a certain scale have to insert Homes for Homes in their projects. If they don't, they can't get a planning permit from the council. 

Similarly, there is significant community participation in the Homes for Homes program over in Denman Prospect, ACT. This sees many homeowners currently taking part in this wonderful initiative on a voluntary basis. “If this translates to the 650+ councils across Australia, we would be able to raise billions more”. Australians will have the chance to make more than a contribution. They will be dealing with the problem and stopping the gap completely. 

If you plan on buying a property this season or in the coming months, we encourage you to consider taking part in the initiative. 

What else can you do to help?

Source: The Big Issue website. WSE-dispatch-assistants: Susie-Laima, Jodi-Pawandeep and-Harjinder

The Women’s Subscription Enterprise provides marginalised women work in a safe and secure environment. 

While The Big Issue provides work opportunities for hundreds of people, most of its vendors are men. Selling magazines on the street is not a safe option for many women especially those who are fleeing domestic violence or who have to care for their children.

There is a growing cohort of women with no work backgrounds, and a lot of them are in their mature years and don't have superannuation. They are falling into poverty and this troubles Steven and his team.

The Women's Subscription Enterprise currently employs around 170 women. So far, women in the program are working in external contract projects such as data entry, mailing list distribution, gift hamper organisation and event support. The challenge is to find the WSE more work, as it has the potential to hire thousands more. 

If you are a corporate business, government body or not-for-profit organisation that requires additional staffing this season, get involved and deliver a social benefit. To find out more, contact Simone at sbusija@bigissue.org.au

As we come to the end of a rocky year, TEDxMelbourne and our friends at The Big Issue encourage you to take action. Buy a copy of The Big Issue magazine, sign up for Homes for Homes or get involved with the Women's Subscription Enterprise.

Even spreading the word to one other person makes a world of difference. 

2020
Community
Social Impact
Photo of Julia
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer

Writer/UX Designer based in Melbourne with a keen interest in innovation and social causes.

Photo of Julia
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer

Writer/UX Designer based in Melbourne with a keen interest in innovation and social causes.