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25 Oct 2021

Clothing drives new-found dignity and hope for the homeless

“If I were an employer and I had to decide between a candidate that had been homeless and one who hadn’t, I would choose the former every time.” – Chris Vagg, co-founder and CEO, Pass it on Clothing 

Ever since a Marie Kondo style wardrobe cull went turbo in 2016, HR + L&D Tech Fest charity partner, Pass it on Clothing has been putting apparel, shoes and accessories directly in the hands of those who need it most. This local Sydney social enterprise provides clothing to the homeless every Tuesday in Martin Place, Wednesday in Gosford and Parramatta and monthly in suburbs Arncliffe and Darlinghurst. 

During that time, co-founder and CEO, Chris has learned a lot about the nature of people, what it can do to someone to be down and out and some insight into offering the type of help that is most meaningful. “Sometimes it is about clothing that is clean and warm, sometimes it’s more powerful. It’s amazing what impact clothing, support, and conversation can have on someone’s sense of confidence and dignity,” he said. 

No one-size-fits-all for homelessness 

Chris VaggAfter spending the past five years supporting and forming relationships with Sydney’s and Greater Sydney’s homeless communities, Chris has heard countless stories of people doing it rough – none of them identical.  

Some people find themselves without a fixed, regular, adequate home because of family breakdown, for some it’s domestic violence, job loss, financial or psychological distress, or from lack of access to affordable housing. For some, being homeless could mean living on the streets, for others it’s living in overcrowded accommodation, couch surfing or staying in shelters. There is no typical profile. 

“There is no typical homeless person. The most common trait I see is lack of family presence or feeling like you can’t go to your family for help,” said Chris. 

Since the pandemic, despite temporary accommodation provided for some living on the street in Sydney, more than 70 percent were left with an unknown housing outcome when that support ended. Support groups report being overwhelmed with requests for help from people facing circumstances they had never envisaged before thanks to decimated savings and extra stresses placed on relationships and wellbeing, as well as greater social isolation, and lack of access to community services. 

When less is more 

Little did professional stylist, Olga Puga know when she informed her partner Chris Vagg that he needed to drastically reduce his wardrobe when they moved home, that she was instigating the start of something huge. 

When Chris realised the scale and quality of the clothes he did not need, he decided to give them directly to those who would benefit from them most. In September 2016, on a cold night on a dark road under a railway bridge in Woolloomooloo, the couple set up their first clothing station. After much hard work and many lessons learned, Pass it on Clothing has now provided over 160,000 pieces of clothing to those experiencing homelessness. 

The physical and psychological benefits the Pass it on Clothing team see every day motivate them to continue to evolve. “I have a vision to build something like an academy designed help people forge a pathway out of homelessness into a sustainable private employment and housing,” said Chris. 

“The thing is, if I were an employer and I had to decide between a candidate that had been homeless and one who hadn’t, I would choose the former every time. Being homeless teaches you to problem-solve, to find a way, to adapt and to survive. There is so much potential there.” 

 

How you can help 

Organisations can get involved with Pass it on Clothing in several ways. You can take out an annual subscription for a custom clothing bin that sits in your company premises, where employees can leave clothing that meet the quality standards (rule of thumb: nothing you wouldn’t give to a family member). There are four pick-ups per year and the clothing goes directly to those who need it most. 

Another way to get involved is the Pass it on Clothing Experience and Education program, which is five hours intensive, integrated and hands on experience sorting and fulfilling clothes, social media collaboration, dinner and engagement with their homeless friends.  

You can find out more about Pass it on Clothing, how to get involved and Chris Vagg’s insights at HR L&D Innovation & Tech Fest, 3-4 February 2022 at ICC, Sydney. Chris will be there in person to share some stories on stage, and you can seek him out for a chat during the conference. 


 

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