Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an hour discussing homelessness, support systems in the city and the way to tackle Sheffield’s social problems with a Big Issue seller, along with the man behind the drive to create a night shelter for people who are homeless in the city, Anthony Cunningham, who posts under the Twitter and Facebook name Tent City.
Anthony has long been an advocate for homeless people in the city. He campaigns tirelessly for the need for a night shelter in Sheffield, with support systems built in to help people with substance abuse and mental health problems, with the ultimate aim of getting them off the city’s streets permanently, and into their own accommodation, rather than going round and round ‘in the system’. His aim is simply to ‘eradicate homelessness in the city of Sheffield’. Previous attempts to set up temporary tent cities at Park Hill and later on Ponds Forge roundabout, were both closed down on order of Sheffield City Council, deemed to be unsafe.
This Christmas, Anthony is running a ‘Countdown to Christmas’ campaign to raise funds for the Big Issue seller I met, who preferred to stay anonymous, but I’ll call Chris for the purposes of this article. Chris has been selling the Big Issue in Sheffield for over 10 years, and like all Big Issue sellers (there are approximately 50 in the city centre of Sheffield), he makes £1.25 per copy that he sells. He sells on average 20 a day, and works from early until late, 7 days per week. The only day he has off is Christmas Day, which is where the inspiration came from for Anthony’s current fundraising campaign.
Countdown to Christmas is a drive to raise as much money as possible for Chris, to enable him to
- maybe have a few days off at Christmas, rest, recuperate and allow his body and mind to begin to heal
- or, buy a week’s worth of Big Issue magazines to get ahead of himself (he currently buys them on a daily basis using the previous day’s takings)
- or, pay a couple of weeks rent so that he doesn’t have to work from dawn until dark every day (he lives hand to mouth, day to day, just about managing to pay all of his bills every week)
- or, fill his cupboards and fridge so food is taken care of for a while
- or, top up his gas and electricity so he can keep his flat warm over the winter
The main driver for raising money for Chris however, is that it will buy him time. Time to figure out the next steps, time to start to look for alternative employment, time to figure out how to escape the system. It’s a ‘simple bump. A leg up’, explained Anthony. It’s easy to donate to the fund, via PayPal here.
At the moment Chris feels trapped in this neverending cycle of trying to sell magazines each day, then buying more with his takings, and can’t see a way out of it. He spoke at length about the restrictions on vendors in the city, battling daily for pitches, being unable to eat and drink for fear of missing sales. He feels restricted by the Sheffield office closing early some afternoons, and not being open on Sundays, meaning that vendors have to sell enough magazines on Fridays and Saturdays to buy their magazines to sell on Sundays too. He complained about a lack of progression and there being no support, either locally or from the central office, to move on with his life.
He openly admits that he used to have a drug problem (although he has been clean for 4 years, with the support of his doctor), and has a criminal record, so your standard routes into employment are pretty closed off to him. Chris blames nobody but himself for his predicament, but desperately needs practical help and support to move forwards with his life. He can’t envisage spending the next 10 years standing on the street, being verbally abused daily, threatened and robbed regularly, continuing to sell the magazine, with no way to move forwards.
If you are looking for a way to do something ‘real’ this Christmas and help a real human being, please consider contributing to the Tent City fundraising initiative, Countdown to Christmas here. Let’s do all we can to help Chris move on to the next stage of his life – every pound really will make a massive difference, please do dig deep.
*All photographs, thanks to Anthony Cunningham