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Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010

Big Issue finds home; homeless in charge

Staff writer

The Big Issue Japan Ltd., a publisher that hires homeless people to sell its magazine on the streets, opened on Friday Japan's first shop managed by homeless people in a former convenience store in Nishi-Umeda subway station.

News photo
Finding a home: A homeless man hawks The Big Issue magazines in a shop in the Nishi-Umeda subway station in Osaka on Friday. KYODO PHOTO

The company is using the shop rent-free for a year, thanks to the Osaka Municipal Government, which used to run it. Twelve homeless people will manage it, four at a time every four months, Big Issue Japan spokesman Koichi Yoshida said.

"It's very rare that homeless people operate an outlet. I have never heard of this anywhere in the world," Yoshida said.

Big Issue Japan's business model — hiring homeless people for its sales force — was first introduced in London in 1991. Its Japanese-language magazine, issued twice a month, was launched in September 2003.

The magazine costs ¥300, with the sales staff keeping ¥160 for themselves.

Having a shop is a great advantage because it can display back issues, sales aren't affected by bad weather, and customers always know where they can pick up the magazine, Yoshida said.

Big Issue Japan sells about 30,000 copies per issue, resulting in ¥18 million a month in sales, President Shoji Sano said. The company has sold about 4.1 million magazines since 2003 and the homeless have earned a total of ¥550 million, he said.

A total of 1,150 homeless people have registered as sales staff, 40 percent of whom stay on longer than a month. Of the 1,150, 135 have "graduated" to other jobs, and 150 are currently selling the magazine in 15 prefectures, he said.

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The Japan Times

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