There But For The Grace Of God Go I

Or the gods, fate, a butterfly's wings... The point is; it could happen to you.

There are a lot of homeless people in Edinburgh. More so than in Glasgow, apparently (well, would you want to sleep on the streets of Glasgowif you could get yourself out?) Just thinking now, I can count ten different people that will be sitting on the street right now, asking for money. A girl and her dog (she can't even be in her twenties) who shares a spot with an older lad outside Weatherspoon's on George's Street, a young guy that sits on Waverley Bridge, a man and his two dogs who sit on Prince's Street, the man that sits outside Saindsbury's on St Andrew's Square, the young Polish girl in Stockbridge, the old lady that sits further to the West of Princes Street, two guys that sit by the bank on North Bridge/Cannon Gate, a very old man who sits in various spots along Rose Street.

As I work for a catering company that wastes EPIC amounts of food, I've often got a few pasties, baguettes or pastries on me, on my home from work (waste not, want not). If I pass someone sitting in the street I'll offer them something to eat. Almost always I get a big smile and thank you ('cept that once... the guy didn't like ham, whatever happened to 'beggars can't be choosers?). I always feel bad for not being able to do more... but I do what I can, you know?

Although I have a roof over my head and a job to keep it there, the Government's crappy idea of a minimum wage means I don't have much to waste (though believe me, I can waste it)... or to hand out to every homeless person I meet. It's really hard walking past them, especially if I'm on my way to buy a book or a DVD... for myself. Even if they don't ask "any change please?" as I walk past, even if they're just sitting there, chin on their chest, it's still hard.

You find it hard, right? And sometimes you think "well, what got them there? What do they really want the money for?" Will it go on food and a place to sleep (you can get a bed in a backpackers hostel for as little as £11.50 a night in Edinburgh... so a homeless guy's sign said, I've never found one for less than £14. Maybe he gets a discount?) or will it go on booze or drugs? I have seen men rummage through bins after someone has dumped a can, or collect half empty bottles on a Saturday night.

This is where The Big Issue comes in. The Big Issue is a magazine that is written, edited and produced by professional journalists and sold by 'street vendors' or homeless people. It was originally started by A John Bird (who had slept rough himself) and Gordon Roddick (co-founder of The Body Shop). They wanted to create a way for homeless, jobless people to pick themselves up and get themselves off the streets. You can read more about that on their History page.

Only people who can prove they are homeless can become street vendors (how they do this I have no idea... maybe I should ask one of the vendors). They buy each magazine for 80p and then sell it for £1.70, except for the three weeks running up to Christmas when they buy it for £1 and sell it for £2 (bumper issues!). The Big Issue is produced weekly and is regional; there's one for London, the South West, the North, Scotland and Wales. There are news articles; film, book, music, TV and theatre reviews; competitions; letters from readers and vendors; job vacancies in the charity and support sectors.

The copy I picked up this week (twice, 'cos I left the first one at work >_> ) has interviews with Big Gay Davies... I mean... Russel T. Davies, Paul McCartney, Robert Englund (Freddie Krueger), Sue Townsend, Justin Lee Collins, Paolo Nutini and lots of local MPs. It has articles on the war in Afghanistan, reviews of all the latest films and DVDs, competitions to win "Where The Wild Things Are" book sets.

It's a damn good read.

It's also more than that; it's a way for someone who has hit their lowest point to drag themselves up by the bootstraps, EARN their own money and get themselves out of the cycle of poverty that begging simply encourages (never give a Big Issue vendor money INSTEAD of buying a magazine, though they'll be grateful for a 'tip' :-D ).

So next time you pass a Big Issue vendor; consider buying a copy from them. You'll get a good read from it and will be helping a person get themselves back on their feet by letting them earn a small, but very welcome living.

You'll make a person's day, believe me.