Things That Matter

Street Vendors Are Struggling So They’re Banding Together To Get The Help They Deserve

Neighborhoods in cities across the United States owe much of their character and energy to street vendors. From LA’s Echo Park to New York’s Queens, these neighborhoods are buzzing with energy thanks to the street life and activity provided by street vendors.

So many of us who are lucky enough to live in areas like this would venture outside for raspados or paletas, mango sprinkled with limón and Tajín, or hot dogs, elotes, and so much more.

Now, the Coronavirus pandemic has put these communities at risk as it’s decimated the livelihoods of street vendors.

Covid-19 has ravaged the world’s street vendor communities and they need help and they need it now.

Lockdowns being enforced across the globe have thrown the world’s two-billion informal workers into turmoil – and street vendors, whose livelihoods rely on being in public spaces – have been particularly hard hit.

Street vendors provide essential services in cities across the globe, particularly in South America and lower income areas of the U.S., where residents rely on them for basic needs. They are part of a vast informal food system that keeps much of the world from going hungry. But the pandemic has devastated the livelihoods of street vendors, disrupting their ability to do their jobs and leaving many in a fight for survival. 

In a report by Latino Rebels, Newarks’ Ferry Street is described as a place buzzing with activity for the pandemic. Now, only one ice cream cart was operating on a corner, owned by an Ecuadorian immigrant, Silvia Samuel.

“It was very hard. I used to sell all of my ice cream in a hot day like this. Now, I am barely finishing a bucket,” said Samuel as she was getting ready to go back home. “Nobody is around as before. I pray to God for this to end so we can go back to normal.”

Their situation is made worse because many are undocumented immigrants – making them ineligible for many state and federal benefits.

Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Many vendors – much like Samuel – are unable to access state and federal programs due to their legal status. This makes it hard to afford to get by day to day and have made many feel fearful for the future.

In New York City, the Street Vendor Project estimates there are approximately 20,000 vendors in NYC alone, and most of them are migrants, people of color, or veterans – communities already at increased risk for Coronavirus-related issues. And many of them were already struggling before the pandemic hit, so the impact of lockdown orders has only intensified the problem.

“Street vendors are generally not eligible for state-sponsored benefits or support like paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, or even small business relief funds. For workers in informal economies, this is a dire situation, leaving many with fear and confusion as to how they will support themselves and their families in the days, weeks and months to come,” according to the Street Vendor Project.

“90% of our members are low-wage immigrant workers who rely on busy streets in order to survive day to day. Without a safety net to fall back on, they are forced to continue to work, risking their health and well-being in the process,” they added.

However, a coalition of street vendors is working together to demand the protections they deserve.

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

Despite being ineligible for several aid programs and being fearful for their futures, a group of street vendor organizations is working to demand more protections.

The National Agenda for Street Vendor Justice was created to put together a united Plato from based on the immediate socio-economic needs of the street vendor community. They hope to set the stage for a “foundation for an equitable national economy that values the contributions of street vendor small businesses.”

The coalition is asking local and federal governments to offer incentives to all small businesses – including street vendors. They also are asking that all information be made available in different languages; to forgive all outstanding fines in 2020; to work towards naturalizing immigrants and refugees so they can access healthcare and financial benefits; and full access to emergency testing and healthcare.

The demands are what all other small businesses already have access to, the group is only asking for fair treatment under the law.

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