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The Street Store – celebrating 500th edition where it all began

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On Sunday, 25 September, the sidewalk outside the Salesian Institute in Green Point will be transformed once more into a bustling marketplace, as The Street Store returns to celebrate its 500th edition. Since the rent-free, premises-free, no-charge pop-up clothing store for the homeless was founded here in January 2014, the concept has sparked a wave of interest, with similar events now taking place in cities across the globe.

We caught up with M&C Saatchi Abel copywriter and Street Store co-founder, Kayli Levitan, to revisit a few favourite moments, find out more about the astounding international acclaim they’ve enjoyed, discover ways to get involved and get a sneak peek into an exciting upcoming project.

So, the 500th Street Store is set to happen in Cape Town this month. Can you maybe give us a quick run-down of how, when and why it all started?

Our client, The Haven Night Shelter, wanted to bring in donations and generate awareness about the work they do. However, we didn’t just want to do a cold clothing drive, since – even though this may inspire people to donate once – we wanted them to continue donating in the future too.

My co-founder, Max Pazak and I, were standing on our Green Point office balcony one day – a very hip and trendy area, but also home to a lot of homeless people – watching the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ cross one another’s paths on the streets, without ever really meeting. 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 dehumanization 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 than on the street that they share?

That’s how The Street Store was born in January 2014. It became the world’s first rent-free, premises-free, no-cost “pop-up clothing store” for the homeless, found entirely on the street and stocked by donations.

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Street Stores are now happening in cities all over the world – which was the first international city to host one and how did they become aware of the project? 

Yes! Street Stores have popped up in over 190 cities globally. The first was hosted by university students in Brussels who found us on social media. They got in touch with us within a week of our store, and then hosted theirs about a month later – it was incredible

Did you ever dream the concept would be so successful and gain such international traction? What has been the most rewarding aspect of having Street Stores pop up here, there and everywhere?

Not at all, the entire experience is still surreal. I sometimes forget that we actually started the organisation, it has been such a whirlwind. The most rewarding thing is that with every store that pops up, it is a constant reminder that there are wonderful people around the world who want to make things better for those who need it most. People innately want to do good, and they just need help getting started.

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Even though the Street Store has taken on a life of its own, you’re still very hands-on as an organiser here in Cape Town – what have some of your favourite Street Store moments been?

The Street Store has certainly taken on a life of its own, but we are actively involved in it every day. If you want to host a Street Store in your community, you have to take a pledge on our website. We read every pledge that comes through to us, and send our hosts starter packs in their language. We also are in constant communication with the hosts as they plan their events and then we create their official Facebook events for them and give them promotion on our Twitter channel.

There have been so many incredible moments around the world. Someone found a missing relative when this person was seen shopping at The Street Store in a news broadcast. We’ve had homeless people email us months later when they were able to turn their lives around, and they told us about how the experience made them feel.  We’ve helped people get into rehab, we’ve seen someone accepted into a shelter at the store – all in all, it’s been the most rewarding experience that you could ever imagine.

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This concept has played a huge role in making life a little bit easier for the homeless and the destitute in urban areas. What else do you think can be done – by businesses, individuals, municipalities, etc – to alleviate the pain of inhabiting such a marginal space?

Something that we have found so meaningful, is how many Street Store hosts email us to tell us that since their store, they look at the homeless differently. They aren’t just “beggars” anymore; they’re people. And that is so important, for people to break through that stereotype and begin to treat people differently.

The homeless can find shelter, support, and development at The Haven Night Shelter, who help them find jobs in order to “find their way back home”. If companies had an applicable role and would consider hiring those who were living at the shelter even in a small capacity, they could get out of the shelter and back into functional society faster, making space for a new homeless person to get a roof over their head and begin their journey home.

Can people volunteer to help you guys with the upcoming Street Store? If not, how can one get involved?

Yes! There are numerous ways to help.

  1. Share our Facebook event and invite all your friends! https://www.facebook.com/events/1578982762403620/
  2. Come to our event and bring clothes, toiletries, underwear, sanitary products and more! It’s a wonderful experience to attend the store and hang up to help out.
  3. And if you want to host your OWN Street Store, visit www.thestreetstore.org and take the pledge.

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