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"I Work Here" campaign breaks stereotypes about Vancouver's homeless

If you see a man in a bright red cap in your neighbourhood holding up copies of what looks like a small magazine, you might hurry past, thinking he's trying to push some kind of religious publication. Or you might take one look at his worn-out clothes and judge him as a panhandler. Chances are, you just walked past a legitimate vendor who's trying to earn money to escape poverty. 

On the corner of Robson and Howe, street paper Megaphone launched part one of its I Work Here campaign, a  series of events across Vancouver to spread awareness about who the vendors are and the work they do. 
"One of the misconceptions is that homeless people don't want to work," said Megaphone executive director Sean Condon.
"We're trying to do is break down this stereotype and show that there actually are quite a lot of people who do want to work. But many of them have barriers that prevent them from having a nine to five job, so Megaphone gives them an employment opportunity."
Vendors come to the office to buy copies of the paper for 75 cents, and sell it for $2 on the street -- the $1.25 profit goes into the vendor's pocket. Peter Thompson, the vendor who works regularly on the corner of Robson and Howe, is a fixture in this part of downtown, selling his magazine through the rain and snow. 
"It's just like any job, you get really nervous at first," said Thompson with a shy smile, explaining his first days selling the magazine. "But I get a lot of positive views from interacting with people."
Thompson, a native of Lytton, was a veteran carpenter for 25 years before a workplace accident broke his leg in five places. He found himself living on the streets, struggling with alcoholism after the accident and the loss of several close family members.
But since he started working for Megaphone, life has started to slowly rebuild: he has a small but steady income from his sales, a place to live, and is on the cusp of completing a six-week journalism course with Langara College.
"We want people to understand this isn't charity --This is someone working their butt off to better their life," said Megaphone managing editor Kevin Hollett. 
"I would see how much it meant for vendors to go out to make connections that they wouldn't otherwise be able to make," Hollett said. "Their self-confidence improves, they're more outgoing, and more willing to talk to people outside of their traditional community." 
Hollett said that while vendors often benefit from connecting with their clients, the clients also benefit from having the vendors as an active part of the community where they sell their magazine.
"The city has a lot of social divides, and we hope this interaction helps people bridge those divides." 

For more information about upcoming I Work Here events, visit the Megaphone website.

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