Big Issue Questions -- LONG (Shawn to Anitra) FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 15 Feb 1998 21:36:24 -0800 (PST)

FWD  CC Replies to sender - "Shawn Ewald" <>

Hello Anitra,

On 14 Feb 98 at 18:42, Anitra Again wrote:

> > And incidentally, you have not answered my question about whether
> > the allegations made by Jennafer, MC, and the homeless community
> > in Santa Monica are false or not.
> I am trying to sort out individual points and get them clarified one
> at a time, Shawn.  This doesn't mean that I am trying to put you
> off.  But there has been quite a lot of "talking at" in this thread,
> and very little "talking with".  I'm  willing to simplify the
> discussion to one or two points per post until we at least agree on
> what we are each saying. :)

I can accept that. If you feel more comfortable about it, you can
send your responses to individual questions in seperate messages.
I personally prefer to make my replies all in one go.

> Would you be willing to list the allegations you refer to?

Some of them, if not most of them, I believe I enumerated already.
I'm not refering to just Jennafer and MC here, I'm  including the
issues raised by others who are opposed not only to the Big Issue's
move into LA but into North America. I think it is fair to include
these people because, as I said before, this debate is not strictly
about a conflict between Making Change and BI.

> > I admit that Robert's misquoting of Tim Harris
> > was wrong, and he is not helping MC or Jennafer by doing such
> > things.
> Thank you, Shawn, for taking the time to check the sources yourself.
> This is something that we all have to do regularly.  Just as I
> always have someone else proofread an article for me because I will
> see on the paper what is in my head, not what's actually on the
> paper, so I also know that my perceptions are going to be shaped by
> what I already believe, and my memory is going to be colored by my
> current emotions, so I always need to crosscheck both regularly.

Actually, I've been told by Robert that I was mistaken, and I
have apologized to him about this. It was Paul Murphy who did the
misquoting in his article for the Street News. This was the only
evidence of a misquote I could find archived on the homeless list.

I admit that I hastilly jumped into this debate in defense of a
friend, Jennafer Waggoner, which I saw being slandered (to be honest)
in your message to her which I originally replied to. Maybe I didn't
look hard enough or I am uncertain of what I should be looking for on
the homeless list archive. If Robert is guilty of misquoting someone
could you please point me in the right direction to find eveidence of

> This is also why I actively seek to have friends with widely
> differing belief systems and opinions, so that I get freequent
> reality checks from different viewpoints.  And why I insist that the
> best solutions come from open dialogue between as many different
> sides of the issue as possible.  We all need cross-checks.

I agree completely.

> > But Robert is not directly affected by this situation, whereas
> > Jennafer, MC, and the homeless population of Santa Monica is, and
> > I have not seen anyone attempt to discredit Jennafer's credibility
> > in this matter, with the exception of certain hysterical and
> > unfounded accusations against her.
> I am not sure what hysterical and unfounded accusations you refer
> to.

I was refering to your message which I originally replied to. I'm
sorry, but this is what the tone of your message looked like from my
vantage point.

> You say of Tim Harris's letter to John Bird:
> > He apparently is satisfied with not looking deeper into the issues
> > raised, because:
> >
> > "I have closely examined your magazine, and have
> > found that, despite the emphasis on entertainment journalism, a
> > respectable proportion of the articles are advocacy related."
> >
> > I'd like to know what a respectable portion is, and exactly what
> > the term "advocacy related" means?
> Shawn, have you read The Big Issue yourself?  Several issues of it?

No I haven't. I have read Making Change, which would be my yardstick
in evaluating the Big Issue's homeless reportage. I went to the Big
Issue's website which is apparently under construction, so that was
no help. I did a web search on Infoseek with the string "Big Issue"
(quotes included), and I wasn't able to find any examples of thier
homeless reportage on the web.

Given that, if you have articles from BI in electronic format that
are good examples of it's homeless reporting, feel free to send them
to me, or maybe you could give me your perception of the Big Issue's
homeless coverage.

> > Mr. Harris goes on:
> >
> > "I also, as you will remember, had the pleasure of visiting your
> > London office 2 years ago, and was impressed with both the quality
> > of services offered to vendors and the number of ground-level
> > staff that had been hired from among the vendors."
> >
> > What services were offered to the vendors? What positions were
> > "ground-level staff" promoted to?
> Are you familiar with the operation of the Chicago paper?  That is a
> primarily service-run paper, with a lot of support services for the
> vendors, that hires among the vendors for staff positions.  An
> accountant was a former vendor, for instance.  I attended a workshop
> that included a videotape of the Chicago operation and services, but
> I could not describe them in detail at this point.

That's unfortunate, because it would really be helpful if the kind
and quality of services offered to those who sell the magazine could
be described.

>Similarly, I
> have had a description of the services offered to vendors in London,
> talking informally with the London rep over lunch at the NASNA
> conference -- but I could not describe them in any detail now.  My
> impression at the time was that they were similar, except that the
> Chicago paper was run by a non-profit service agency.

A few questions: 1.) Are you aware of any third party evaluations of
the kind and quality of services offered to BI vendors? I would feel
more confident about the information if it came from an unconnected
third party, as opposed to a rep from the Big Issue.

2.)  You say that the Chicago edition of the Big Issue was run by a
non-profit, since you seem to make a distinction here (am I
reading too much into this), does this mean that the Big Issue is
for- profit?

I ask this because you say below that, due to the tax laws of the UK,
the Big Issue cannot be officially called a non-profit even though it
functions like one, just looking for clarification.

Additionally, if the Big Issue has allowed a non-profit to distribute
the Big Issue, rather than set up shop them selves, apparently. Is
it possible for the Big Issue to allow Making Change or another
homeless advocacy non-profit that is acceptable to homeless people
here in Los Angeles to manage the distribution of BI? Could this be
done in a method different from BI's usual methods?

I ask this because I have serious problems with the "training"
program that the Big Issue uses for it's vendors.

3.) This is really a question for Tim Harris, but maybe you know the
answer. In his letter to John Bird he states that he visited the BI
offices in London; I would like to know if he was invited by BI and
given a tour of the operation by them, or did he come on his own to
inspect the situation there? What would his detailed description be
of the kind and quality of services offered to BI vendors?

For others reading this who have answers to these and previous
questions, I would greatly appreciate your input.

> One bit of background that I'm not sure you have, by the way, is
> that the economic structure and tax laws in Britain are quite
> different than in the US.  There is no such thing as a "non-profit
> organization" as we have here.  All organizations exist on the same
> basis -- if you don't make any money, you don't pay taxes, if you do
> make money, you pay taxes.  You don't formally announce that you
> aren't going to make any money, it just happens.

But does the Big Issue make a profit? If so, where does it go? I
understand that the Big Issue has a circulation of around 100,000 in
the UK alone. To put that number in perspective: The Nation, and
Mother Jones have that level of circulation in the US which,
obviously is a much smaller circulation than the Big Issue has when
one compares the population of the UK to the US.

Obviously, someone from the Big Issue could better answer this
question -- like the two people who our entire exchange has been CC'd

> > He brushes aside the concern that there is no homeless involvement
> > on the decision-making level at the Big Issue, and the natural
> > expectation of such involvement by grassroots homeless paper
> > publishers, as being a problem of "identity politics"
> Perhaps I can make this clearer.  There are some organizations I am
> involved with, like SHARE, where to have any vote on policy
> decisions you have to be a homeless or formerly homeless member and
> not on paid staff in any capacity.

Being a person involved in grassroots political work, I find the kind
of decision-making structure you describe at SHARE to be
perfect. This is how a grassroots organization should be run.

> At the Real Change, however,
> while the members of the editorial committee are all low-income
> and/or homeless and have primary control over content and the
> development of future content, Tim Harris makes business decisions
> along the lines of which printer we are going to use, who is going
> to do the admin work, what bills are going to get paid when. At the
> Low Income Housing Institute, one-third of the board of directors
> are low-income and/or homeless, and the board of directors sets
> policy -- in actual fact, it is a constant struggle to get the voice
> of the homeless represented in the policies over the voice of the
> most persuasive and senior staff.

This is not surprising, considering the fact that *only* one-third of
the board of directors are low income/homeless. But it seems it's
still better than the structure of the Big Issue, which appears to
have a standard top-down corporate stucture.

> In all of these environments, I have known some people who have
> never been homeless who are capable of respecting the dignity of all
> people, and recognizing the realities of the poor that they are
> working with. I have known some who never can.  And i have known
> some homeless people who have been able to respect the dignity of
> all people -- and some who never can.
> I, personally, am more willing to work with those who act on respect
> for all, including the homeless, than those who have a homeless
> "identity".

Regardless of who can and who cannot act on respect for all, would
you disagree that homeless people, like all people, are
ultimately the best arbiter of what is best for them as individuals
as well as a collective "identity" group.

> > As I see it, the real issues in this situation are:
> >
> > 1. Has the Big Issue tried to muscle out smaller street papers in
> > the past? What happened in New York?
> >From what I have read and been told, including by Tim Harris, The
> >Big
> Issue did indeed try to muscle in on New York and stage a "hostile
> takeover" of the existing paper there.  They were trounced soundly.
> when I first heard of their actions in LA I was afraid they were
> attempting the same thing and I supported warning them off.
> I read John Bird's responses to our warnings as acknowledging his
> errors and being willing to work with local papers ("local" meaning
> all of North America) instead of in competition.  I am still waiting
> to see if that bears out.  I have seen no evidence yet that he is
> not going to keep to his promises this time, after being called to
> account for breaking them initially.  If he is going to break his
> promises, there is plenty of time to escalate action against him
> before April.

Would you agree that it is probably easier for you, someone who is
not directly affected by the consequences, to hold a wait and see
position like this, than say Jennafer and Making Change?

Considering the fact that the Big Issue did in fact try to muscle
out a street paper in New York, I see absolutely no reason why one
should believe their promises that it won't repeat that performance

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