Vendor Profile: Jason

14 August 2015 Emily Lush

Vendor Profile: Jason

Photograph by Peter Franks

MY LIFE BEGAN in a small town outside Auckland, New Zealand. My parents are originally from Samoa but emigrated before I was born. Religion was a big part of family life. I still remember listening to my grandfather say 6pm prayers every evening. I was raised a Catholic, but nowadays my spirituality is self-taught. I’ve been studying scripture for 10 years. Without it, I would probably be in jail. The area I’m from is rough. I’ve lost many friends to gang violence and alcohol.

I studied social work at university but moved away from that field when I realised I had my own issues to deal with. Who was I to be telling anyone else how to live their life? I looked for work in call centres instead, and it was a job with Telstra that brought me to Brisbane in 2012. But things didn’t really work out for me. I took a break, found some temp work, but I was soon unemployed. Not being a citizen, I couldn’t access Centrelink.

Homelessness was really my only option.

I slept rough for about three months. I guess I’m a heavy sleeper because one morning, when I woke up, I found that someone had stolen my swag, my bags and all my clothing – which is tailor-made to fit me. I can’t just go and buy new clothes at the shop like most people, so that was a real setback.

Soon after that I started talking to a Big Issue vendor to see what it was all about. The Big Issue has helped me big time. I now have my own place in a Salvation Army hostel. Selling magazines earns me an income, but I still have enough time to study scripture and enjoy my main hobby: music. I like listening to music of all genres: rock, gospel, hip-hop. I tried to learn a few chords myself but, to be honest, I broke the guitar. I did play the triangle in primary school, though!

My regular pitch is in the city and I get a whole range of customers. Young, old, struggling, rich – I enjoy chatting to them all. Conversation is more important to me than money, and I’m always the one who sparks up the discussion. But talking face-to-face is a bit of a change from talking on the telephone. During my first two weeks on the pitch I drove myself crazy, constantly wondering why people were ignoring me. But I had to persevere. I was once like that, too, after all. I remember walking straight past vendors when I was trying to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’. I would never do that now.

I’ve thought about going back to New Zealand. Part of me still wants to go home. But, at the same time, I see my current situation as an obstacle to overcome. I don’t know why God has put me in this position, but I believe I’m here for a reason. All I can do now is tackle the challenge.

interview by Emily Lush photograph by Peter Franks

This article first appeared in Ed#491 of The Big Issue.