Sea Point resident and co-founder of the pop-up Street Store, Kayli Vee Levitan, said she had never imagined how big the project would grow when it started two years ago.
She celebrated the opening of the 500th store at the weekend.
The Street Store was launched in 2014 as an initiative of advertising agency M&C Saatchi Abel and has since gone global with Street Store pop-ups around the world.
The 500th Street Store opened in Green Point on Sunday September 25 – a stone’s throw away from where the idea was born.
Ms Levitan said the idea for the world’s first rent-free, premises-free, free “pop-up clothing store” for the homeless, found entirely on the street and stocked by donations, came from a balcony conversation in Sea Point.
She and co-founder, Max Pazak, who is based in Germany, had been standing on their office balcony one day.
“Our offices are in Green Point – a very hip and trendy area, but where you find a lot of homeless people.
“We saw how the haves and the have-nots cross one another’s paths on the streets, but never really meet. The haves fear the homeless, and get frustrated with their begging – so they begin to ignore them. This dehumanises the homeless, which makes them feel even more comfortable with begging, as they begin to see the haves as pockets, rather than people. This vicious cycle of dehumanisation separates these two worlds.
“We realised that to bring in donations now, and in the future, we needed to bring the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ together to learn from one another and break through deep-set social stereotypes, while making donating easy, and receiving dignified. And what better a place to do so then on the street that they share?”
They had not wanted to simply do a cold clothing drive, because while people might have donated once, they might not have done so again.
The Street Store has now held events across continents with pop-ups in Vancouver, Brussels, Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paulo and many other cities.
“It was completely unex-pected. To this day, we’re still blown away by how many people have gotten involved and helped grow The Street Store into what it is today. We had to overcome the fear that the project wouldn’t work, and just go out and try it. Once we did, everything fell into place,” said Ms Levitan.
“What’s been truly amazing is seeing how The Street Store changes people and the way they look at the world. It makes them more aware, more accepting and more sensitive to the needs of those around them.”
Hassan Khan, CEO of the Haven Night Shelter and one of the initiative’s partners, said he had not expected the store to grow like it had.
“There is a great deal more that can be done, but the key thing for me about the store is the organisation of resources from the haves to the have nots. The other key is that it is about coming together and allowing a person who is on the streets to reflect and consider the Haven as an option.”
October 10 was World Homeless Day, and the theme for this year is “How can I be my brother’s keeper?”
Visit www.thestreetstore.org if you want to host a Street Store in your community. Visit www.
facebook.com/thestreetstoreorg/events to find a Street Store in your community.