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Street vendor magazine Megaphone goes digital in response to COVID-19

Vendors rely on income from selling monthly magazine that focuses on issues pertaining to poverty and homelessness
Vendors such as Stephen Scott earn much-need income selling copies of Megaphone, a weekly newspaper
Vendors such as Stephen Scott earn much-need income selling copies of Megaphone, a weekly newspaper that gives voice to the homeless. File photograph Dan Toulgoet

Megaphone has released a downloadable version of its magazine as a way for its readers to continue supporting the publication’s street vendors.

Megaphone is a monthly, street-press magazine that focuses on issues pertaining to poverty and homelessness and is created by professional editors, journalists and designers, and also receives contributions from low-income or homeless populations.

Issues of the magazine are sold to vendors for 75 cents, who can then sell it on the streets for two dollars and retain the profits. Sales of the magazine usually provide meaningful employment and a regular source of income for people experiencing poverty in Vancouver and Victoria, but due to the spread of the coronavirus, most of the vendors have had to stop selling.

Executive director of Megaphone, Julia Aoki, says of the 150 current vendors, that there are “very few right now” still selling the magazine on the streets. “We haven’t been advising anyone to stop selling completely — they are sole proprietors — but we are advising customers and vendors alike to practise social distancing, proper hygienic protocol, and to perhaps use the app to make a purchase whenever possible.”

“Our vendors are people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and often other forms of intersecting marginalization,” Aoki added. “Our vendors are not only vulnerable to income insecurity, but also to COVID-19 as many have compromised immune systems due to other illnesses, not to mention substandard housing and limited access to healthy food and personal hygiene supplies. While COVID-19 makes vending less possible, it also makes the financial support more crucial.”

Readers can now purchase and download a digital copy of the magazine either from the Megaphone app, or the magazine’s website. At the point of purchase, customers can choose to pay the cover price of $2 or, if they choose, they can also leave a tip.

“The proceeds of that sale will go either fairly, to all active vendors, or if people out there have a particular vendor that they like to purchase from, that they like to support, they can direct the sale to that individual,” said Aoki.

In addition, there is an option on the website to make a tax-free donation.

“We’re asking the public to consider donating to the organization as well, because if we can remain operationally strong, even if it’s not with the magazine and street sales, we can continue to find ways to enlist the vendors in other forms of work, and then pay them fairly.”

In the last two days, online sales of Megaphone have already surpassed $800.

“The reaction that I’ve seen so far, with the soft launch [of the online version of Megaphone] has been a positive one,” said Aoki. “I do think that there is a lot of interest and willingness to think in a community-minded way right now, and I’d just like to encourage everybody to continue doing that.”

“There are people with needs and those needs won’t go away with this pandemic. They’ll just increase,” she added.

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