Homeless magazine sellers back on the streets after UK lockdown

London (AFP) –


For homeless magazine vendor Matthew Meredith, the lifting of England's coronavirus lockdown is a major relief.

For the past three months, he's struggled to pay for food and temporary shelter as the country shut down -- depriving him of the scant income he earns selling magazines on the street.

"It was a blow not to have the magazine for those months. I had to borrow money. I don't like asking for money," he told AFP.

"My mum has just lost her job -- her bingo hall shut down. My brother has a good job, so I ask him here and there.

Meredith is among about 1,500 vendors for the Big Issue, a magazine sold in the UK to help so-called rough sleepers and the homeless.

The 31-year-old sells the magazine on Oxford Street -- one of central London's retail hotspots, where shops and restaurants reopened this week.

He normally gets £25 ($35, 29 euros) a week for buying The Big Issue from distributors -- and pockets the difference between the cost price of £1.50 and sale price of £3.00.

It's not much, but it's enough to get by.

"I have to pay £100 a month for the hostel and buy my own food as the hostel food is disgusting, which eats into my finances."

- 'Alive and kicking' -

With few people on the streets to sell to over the past three months, times were tougher than normal.

Lockdown restrictions severely affected vendors, who tend to be more vulnerable financially and mentally after experiencing rough sleeping.

The pressures of confinement -- often in sub-standard accommodation -- have been eased, however, as society gradually unlocks.

"I am registered for anxiety, depression and personality disorder. I can be a short fuse sometimes," said Meredith.

"It was a struggle -- the last three months have been depressing."

But he said trade had now picked up, giving him a welcome boost.

"I've done a lot better today than in the week leading up to Christmas," he added.

"There are many faces I remember and it's fantastic to see they're alive and kicking."

- Struggling to get by -

The Big Issue magazine was launched in 1991 to help rough sleepers earn a legitimate income and find a place in society while tackling homelessness and poverty.

Those problems have come to the fore over the last year, forcing many more families to seek state and charitable support just to live from day-to-day.

Charities running food banks have seen a surge in demand for their services over the last year. Others have sought help just to pay the rent.

The London Mayor's office said it had helped provide emergency accommodation, as well as food and other support, for more than 1,300 rough sleepers during lockdown.

Paul Martin, a 54-year-old Big Issue vendor working in London's Leicester Square, has been selling the magazine since 2013 -- and considers himself luckier than most.

"I'm glad to be out again and see people. I hope it gets better and warmer. I never have a bad day -- the only bad days I have is when I pay my rent and the bills."

Martin's beaming face belied his ordeal of not earning an income for months and he credited his family with helping him pull through.

"I was in my house being bored, watching the same old programmes. The only time I went outside was to get food and essentials. I was struggling but got by," he said.

"I've got a mum and six sisters. I can't cook so they gave me food every two to three days. Without my family I wouldn't be here now."