When he lived out of a shopping cart, Hastings and Granville was Patrick Doyle’s home. Now, the bustling downtown intersection is home to something entirely different – his flourishing micro-business.
“Megaphone! Vancouver’s street paper, folks! Have you seen the Megaphone? Ever read one? Ever considered reading one? Ever even looked at one?” he shouts, his sales tactic shifting from boisterous to inquisitive to humorous.
Mr. Doyle is one of 40 street vendors who sells Megaphone magazine, a publication that focuses on social justice issues and the Downtown Eastside. The low-income or homeless vendors buy the magazine for 75 cents an issue and sell it for a suggested donation of $2.
They keep the profit, but Mr. Doyle says selling the magazines is about more than money – it also provides a boost in self-esteem.
“It’s a lot nicer doing it this way than sitting there with a sign asking for money. You’re selling something.”
Mr. Doyle, who turns 52 in January, moved to B.C. from Ontario about two decades ago. He worked in construction until about 2004 or 2005, when his body could no longer take the physical labour. He’s got arthritis in his knees and, on this day, one of them has swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. He also suffers from a bad back and shoulder, and is taking medication for ulcers.
When he was unable to find work, Mr. Doyle had to live on the street. He appears to cringe when he talks about his time spent panhandling.
About three years ago, Mr. Doyle’s luck turned around. Shortly after he started selling the magazine, he found a residence through BC Housing. He credits Megaphone, at least partly, with helping improve his life.
On a good day, Mr. Doyle says he can make $40 to $50. On a bad day, he pulls in about $25. “That makes a big difference between a hamburger and macaroni, right?”
Mr. Doyle receives disability payments, but says they barely cover his expenses.
Much of his money is made through his regular customers, those who stop, chat and buy when a new issue comes out every two weeks. Mr. Doyle likes to tease his customers and tell jokes. On this day, he’s also singing a slightly risqué version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
It’s clear Mr. Doyle enjoys and takes pride in what he does – never more so than when he talks about picking up garbage to keep his intersection clean.
“You take a look at this corner, then you go to another corner and take a look. You’ll see the difference.”
A few blocks away, at another well-kept corner, is fellow vendor Peter Thompson.
Although he and Mr. Doyle are very different in personality – Mr. Thompson appears quieter, more reserved – their stories are similar. Mr. Thompson worked in construction until he suffered serious injuries to his leg. His last construction job was around 1999, and he didn’t work again until he signed on with Megaphone three or four years ago.
“I did live on the street for awhile,” he said, adding that he fought alcohol issues. “I lived under bridges, or [would]find some dry place to stay when it was raining, or just stay in the park if it was nice out.”
Mr. Thompson won’t disclose his exact age – he’ll only admit that he’s in his 50s and is “gettin’ up there.” He was born in Lytton, B.C., and has called the Vancouver area home for about three decades.
Like Mr. Doyle, he says his life is much improved since he became a vendor. He rents a basement suite with his brother and enjoys the interaction of his job.
“I enjoy that, because people really know who I am through the selling. I’ve met a lot of friends doing this, too.”
Sean Condon, Megaphone’s executive director, said there’s a misconception that low-income or homeless people are lazy. One of the magazine’s goals is to break down that stereotype. To help its vendors succeed, it offers training sessions that cover everything from sales tactics to body language.
Some of the vendors also sell the Hope In Shadows calendar, which features photographs taken by residents of the Downtown Eastside
The magazine does not track how many issues a vendor sells. That’s not the point, Mr. Condon says.
“We don’t measure the success of the vendors by their sales. We measure it by how they achieve their goals,” he said. “You can see a transformation that happens with them.”
WHAT IT IS
Megaphone magazine’s street vendor program provides economic opportunities for low-income or homeless people.
HOW IT WORKS
Vendors get their first 10 copies free when they sign up, then pay 75 cents an issue. They sell the magazine for a suggested donation of $2 and keep the profit. “If somebody wants to make some extra change, this is the way to do it,” said vendor Patrick Doyle. “It’s legal and you get a business licence and everything.”
Added Sean Condon, Megaphone’s executive director: “When people come in, we sit them down and we explain to them what the project’s about. We make them sign a code of conduct saying they’ll abide by the rules, not consuming drugs or alcohol.”
Mr. Condon said some people sign up and are never seen in the Megaphone office again. But those who stick with the program connect with their community and improve their lives.