Views from the Street

10 August 2017 Sharon M

Views from the Street

Collage by Gracia and Louise

I’ve been working at The Big Issue for nearly 14 years. It’s been an experience, I must admit! 

I am also an unpaid counsellor to those who need someone to listen to their problems and their life stories.

A confidante to those wishing to unburden themselves.

A trusted friend to many of the streeties, and a friendly acquaintance to many others.

I am a mum to some of the younger kids and I have watched over them as they first hit the streets and become homeless.

I am an aunty to the older generation. I am a sister to many women and men, and a friendly face to most who travel by me.

I have been given some beautiful gifts like necklaces and rings, bracelets, clothes, blankets, scarves, beanies and toiletries (because I smell!).

I have given to the streeties as they appreciate the gesture and remember kindness.

I bring them food and drink when they ask me to help them out with spare change. I won’t support their habits or give them cash, as I have my own hopes and husband to support.

I gave one old lady who begs for money a bottle of water because that was what she wanted the money for, and now she tells me she wishes I was her daughter because I cared. And that’s it – I care. So many people feel it’s not their problem, so why bother? Why worry about the less privileged, the poor, the homeless, the drug addicts and alcoholics, the mentally ill and those needing a hand up?

But you never know when you are talking with angels.

The Big Issue gives me the wherewithal to accomplish my good Samaritan feats. I’ve saved young girls from committing suicide just because I spent time listening to their stories and showing that someone cares. 

The young street kids worry me, as I see them falling into the same traps that I fell into. Falling more and more into the world of alcohol and drugs, prostitution and begging. I see them selling themselves, as it’s quick money that they can make, or they rob shops and people and sell the stuff to anyone willing to pay for it.

I see the guys falling into the criminal world and becoming standover merchants and drug dealers.

I watch the groups looking for trouble, drunk and out for a fight. They look dangerous in their gangs and I am aware of them when they surround me and come up to talk to me.

I see the lonely guys walking by with all they own on their back. One guy in particular I call “Snail”, because he carries a huge backpack on his back all day. He must be so relieved at the end of the day when he can unload his bag and have a rest.

There’s my adopted daughter Summer with her three-legged cat that got hit by a car. She won’t join The Big Issue as she says she’ll make triple the amount of money begging with her cat.

There’s the mad old lady who gets about town yelling at the world and anyone who will listen. She settles down once she’s had her medication.

There’s scores of school children on school excursions who visit the Big Issue Classroom, and buy a magazine once they know what it’s about.

Then there’s the men out to pick up, and I sing out to them, “The boys are back in town!”, or the women in groups out to celebrate a girls’ night out. They get as drunk as the men and come by later, feeling sorry for me working late. They give me good tips from the good money they earn in their crappy jobs they hate but the pay is fabulous. Their outfits cost more than I would spend in a week on shopping! They have designer labels and can afford to part with some of their earnings to help out.

There’s the young kids coming in loud and boisterous, getting drunk on cheap wine from casks that they have talked someone into buying for them. They are always a laugh.

There are the couples who come into town to spend a romantic night out celebrating. They make my night when they tell me that they’ve been together married for 40 years. It gives me hope that my marriage will last just as long.

There’s the families with mum and dad and kids in tow, off to the movies. They are all very shy and polite. They don’t give a lot, but they support the magazine.

There’s mother and daughter combos who come to buy the magazine to share and to do the crossword puzzle.

There’s the couples with a new baby in a pram who give small change. If I can get their child to smile it makes my day.

There’s the Asian families who don’t speak a word of English. One lady comes to town with a bag of clothes she bought in Singapore.

There’s the jewellers who repaired my grandmother’s ring for free, and the watchmaker who fixed the special watch my husband found me.

There’s John in the Tatts outlet rain, hail or shine, whose credit notes are invaluable. And the Sushi Bar that lets me get food – and pay later – when I’m desperate for a feed.

There’s the volunteers who give out maps with directions who are so nice. Some of them like Joan have been doing the job for as long as I’ve been working.

I had this job to keep me going until I got better again, and it’s been the one thing that I can look forward to each day. I can make some money for my bread and butter and still have date night on a Friday with my husband.

There’s such an array of colourful people – I could go on about it all day. They all bring something with them and I am glad that I am a part of the show.

» Sharon sells The Big Issue in Melbourne. 

This article first appeared in Ed#542 of The Big Issue.