Homeless are not others, they are us - Mike Findlay

Anabel, being “smart, well-spoken, articulate and well-kept, is not the standard mainstream stereotyped depiction of a homeless person. She has struggled with money and family issues, and been unable to find work. She’s even been taken advantage of.”

This description of Anabel, who sells The Big Issue in Glasgow, demonstrates the reality faced by many homeless people. It also challenges common perceptions of what someone who is living in poverty looks and sounds like.

For too long, homeless people have been "othered”, by passers-by on the streets and the mainstream media. Often looked down upon. Often ignored. The above words are a simple yet powerful example of how we can start to break down misconceptions about people who are homeless, which is something the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) is determined to tackle.

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INSP is a Glasgow charity representing newspapers and magazines sold by people in poverty internationally, representing 92 street papers in 35 countries. The Big Issue brand is well known in Scotland, but Anabel is just one member of a community of around 6,000 people globally who sell street papers to make a living.

Mike Findlay, CEO International Network of Street Papers
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The street paper concept is an enterprising one taking us beyond the idea of a charity hand-out. Most vendors buy the papers themselves, selling them on at a profit they keep. It’s ultimately an empowerment model, putting people in charge of their own working lives.

Since I joined INSP in May I have been struck by the wide “wrap-around” support street papers provide people beyond the transactional aspect: emotional health and wellbeing support, practical assistance with finances and support with housing. There are also countless examples of innovations happening around the world. For instance, in Mexico City, street paper Mi Valedor has partnered with local organisations to ensure vulnerable communities can access free health services in a non-discriminatory way.

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INSP champions independent media through our own News Service. Original stories are provided to our members, and we have reported on some of society’s biggest challenges – the Ukraine war, restrictions to abortion access, climate change and criminalisation of homeless people – all while advocating for people living in poverty.

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The INSP team in Glasgow (Picture: Gold Visuals – Matthew McGoldrick)

Our network of 239 journalists is pushing boundaries by telling authentic stories from the streets, while helping sellers of street papers earn an income. Collectively over the last year £17.9 million was earned by vendors and we have ambitions for this figure to rise again to pre-Covid levels.

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In the US, we piloted our Housing for the People column, giving people the chance to tell their own stories of hardship through the INSP News Service. Coaching and mentoring is provided and, critically, we pay for each published article, treating each contributor as professional journalists.

In Scotland, we have heard calls for an independent Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute, as welcomed by the Scottish Government and backed by the Culture Secretary, Angus Robertson. Part of this ambition is about having an independent press which provides high-quality and reliable news. I am intrigued to know what role INSP could play, particularly in ensuring underrepresented voices are accurately represented in the media, as well as helping create a career path for marginalised people.

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This September, we will host our first Global Street Paper Summit since the pandemic. INSP members share the goals of tackling poverty and perceptions about poverty. Our superpower is in peer-to-peer learning and support between members. It’s always pleasing to hear how well-established street papers are lending their time and expertise to smaller and newer papers, often operating on shoestring budgets, to help them get off the ground.

Global Street Paper Summit credit: Sebastian Sellhorst
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INSP is a small charity of just six staff members. We have creative ideas for expanding our offering, and are looking for new partners and donors to join us, to engage with businesses and creative organisations, all with the aim of tackling poverty and perceptions.

Mike Findlay, CEO International Network of Street Papers www.insp.ngo [email protected]

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