|THE PROOF is a weekly roundup showcasing local creatives. A column for creatives to share their story and work, in a unique, concise format: each creative shows 8 pictures and answers 8 questions. Past participants include Bob Kronbauer, Omer Arbel, Hannah Georgas, Carson Ting, Lizzy Karp, Andy Dixon, Graeme Berglund, Karen Duncan of VOKRA - all living in Vancouver.|
Yes, hello! This phrase is an inside joke borne of the long dark hallway that comprises Megaphone’s headquarters, but the winking, open-hearted spirit of those words will always remind me of Jessica Hannon. Her deep capacity for kindness and for wisely walking alongside people to help them realize their potential is extraordinary. So amazing, in fact, that she is a goddamn professional at it. Jessica works as the executive director of Megaphone, a Vancouver-based social enterprise providing meaningful work to people experiencing poverty. On a day-to-day level, this means many things, from lugging 50-pound boxes of award-winning magazines across the Salish Sea to Megaphone’s feisty crew of Victoria vendors, to advocating for better social and economic supports on behalf of the people who need them the most. Inside and outside Megaphone, Jessica’s appreciation for beauty in the unexpected is alive in her love of people, of literature, of the mysterious mountains and oceans that surround us, of a soccer match, and the deliciously silly moments that make up life itself. She’s one of the best people you’ll meet. Some people think we’re voice twins. It’s one of my most treasured compliments.
Jackie Wong, freelance writer and former editor of Megaphone
1. My desk, featuring a broken lamp, vendor poetry, notes haphazardly stuck up on the wall, the 2017 Hope in Shadows calendar cover, and a quote from Arundhati Roy that I love.
2. One of my all-time favourite New Yorker cartoons and my desktop background. It doesn’t have a particularly deep meaning, but the combination of absurdity and sweetness makes me laugh.
3. Peter Thompson, the people’s champ! Peter was the 2016 Vancouver Vendor of the Year. He sells at 4th and Vine in Kits. Here he is in his dressing room before going on CBC Television to talk about being vendor of the year. What a guy.
4. Last year, Megaphone staff awoke before dawn to wrap the Gastown steam clock in vendor-designed wrapping paper as promotion for our special holiday issue. Then we sat in Starbucks and watched to see if anyone noticed. Fight the power!
5. Vendors Brenda, Priscillia, DJ, Rose (and me) at our annual vendor holiday dinner. The best crew.
6. My parents Sean and Megan, plus my sister Erin. I like them very much.
7. One of my favourite things about the community Megaphone is in, the Downtown Eastside, is the creative, funny, and often easy-to-miss art that happens in public spaces. Just a couple of smileys.
8. The view from my desk. We share office space with the inspiring Pivot Legal Society, hence the sweary poster in the background. In the foreground, I’m getting stink-eye from sometime office dog/tiny creature Meggie over Megaphone staffer Krista’s shoulder.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Nanaimo. I delight in moments of beauty, humour, and absurdity in the everyday. At any given moment I have 3 Firefox windows open with 20 tabs in each, but at times feel overwhelmed by existential dread and close them all at once, to immense relief. In highschool I was voted most likely to appear on Jeopardy, which speaks perhaps more to my social skills (or their lack) than my jeopardy skills. I will cross the street to pet your dog. I like to play soccer and am working on swearing less when I do.
2. What is Megaphone?
Megaphone offers meaningful work and community connection to people experiencing poverty and homelessness. We publish a monthly magazine and annual Hope in Shadows calendar that our low-income vendors sell on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria. Vendors buy each magazine up front for 75cents and sell it to customers for $2. They keep the profit. Our vendors – who live with the impacts of poverty, homelessness, mental health challenges, addiction, disability – are incredible. They work hard every day to build up their micro-businesses, creating positive change in their lives. They also impact our communities – sharing their stories, making connections, and challenging the harmful stigma that surrounds homelessness and poverty. They’re the beating heart of Megaphone and the reason why I come to work.
3. How did you start working with Megaphone?
I met a vendor. For months, l’d get off the bus, walk by a vendor named Richard, and quietly wonder what he was up to – I assumed it was a religious pamphlet. As a bit of an introvert (and resident of Vancouver) it’s not in my nature to just stop and ask what someone is doing. But eventually, I got curious enough to do that. I stopped, got talking with the vendor, and became a regular customer. I loved the model. It is simple, yet has so much potential for impact: from the much-needed income for vendors, to the opportunity to hear voices that aren’t often shared in traditional media; to the connections across the boundaries of race, class, opportunity, gender, experience that so often divide us. Eventually, I made a small $10 donation during a fundraising campaign – and I got a thank you postcard in the mail, signed by the Executive Director. I was amazed. The executive director is writing the thank you cards?! I got in touch to start volunteering, figuring they could use the help, and I’m still here almost 6 years later.
4. What are you working on right now?
Supporting vendors to increase their Megaphone sales. Publishing a 6-part reader-crowdfunded series exploring solutions to the homelessness crisis in B.C. This spring, kickstarting our Vendor Advocacy Committee – where vendors will identify issues that affect them and we’ll work together to advocate for positive policy changes. Reading internet think-pieces about work-life balance and laughing ruefully.
5. What do you hope to achieve with your work?
I often encounter the idea that homelessness is inevitable, that it is forever, just a natural feature of the landscape. That’s not true. It’s a situation we created through policy decisions. When we understand that, it is empowering. That tells us it’s a constructed reality that we can change. On a concrete level, I hope to offer meaningful work and community connection to people experiencing poverty and homelessness, but beyond that, I seek to build understanding across economic divides, build recognition of the contributions that people who are homeless and low-income make to our communities, and ultimately build support to end poverty. Through the connections and community power Megaphone creates, we can build a more just and inclusive society. We are in what feels like a grim time – the racism, sexism, colonialism, ableism that have always been present in society are emboldened and centre-stage. We need to find ways to connect with each other and support each other in tough times. I feel like a motivational speaker.
6. What keeps you going operating Megaphone?
The Megaphone community. The vendors are the best. They’re the reason why Megaphone exists, and the heart of the organization. Despite the challenges poverty, homelessness, mental and physical health issues, addiction, trauma, and stigma create, vendors slog it out in rain and snow, through rejection, dismissal, and tough days. And Megaphone readers and supporters are right there with them – Megaphone supporters are the people who believe that we all have something to contribute, that we are all better off when we take care of each other. I'm grateful to them for that.
7. How can we help? How can people get involved?
Buy Megaphone! Buy the heck out of it! If you already buy it, tell your friends about it too! It’s the absolute best way to support vendors. It sounds simple but I’ve seen the connections vendors and readers form build understanding and community in powerful and unexpected ways. Buying Megaphone is a hand up in solidarity to people experiencing poverty. It’s only $2, but you’re saying – I see you, you’re part of my community, you matter to me. We’re in this together. Beyond that – get in touch with us if you’re interested in volunteering, writing, or donating.
Jessica Hannon will be presenting at the next PechaKucha Night Vol. 41 on Thursday, Feb. 9th. Join us and see what she has planned for us.