Police are targeting a free clothes service for homeless people, here’s how you can help
For six years, Pass it On Clothing has been providing free clothing without issue. Until now.
By Claire Ollivain
When Sydneysiders Chris Vagg and Olga Puga moved house in 2016, they had many quality pieces of clothing to get rid of which they wanted to make sure landed on the backs of people who needed them most.
Deciding against taking the clothing to a charity bin where they might be thrown away or sold at a price, Chris and Olga went to Cathedral Street in Woolloomooloo to give them directly to people experiencing homelessness or disadvantage, passing on eleven pieces on their first night.
What started as a wardrobe cull eventually grew into social enterprise Pass it on Clothing & Co, which has provided almost 200,000 quality pieces of clothing for free to homeless people in various Sydney locations over the past six years.
“We wanted to ensure that people had the dignity of choice, of being able to choose what they want, because they don’t really get an opportunity to do that,” founder Chris Vagg said.
“We set up everything on clothing racks, [rather than] giving people stuff in garbage bags — there wasn’t any dignity in that. That’s just how we started and it kept growing.”
“When someone takes something off the clothing rack on the hanger, Olga, our professional stylist, is able to say: ‘That looks good on you,’ or ‘That’s your colour, that’s your cut.’ And then all of a sudden, people think, ‘You care’ and you can create a connection with them,” Chris continued.
With weekly stalls in Martin Place and Parramatta, and monthly services in Darlinghurst and Arncliffe, Pass it on Clothing has been making a positive difference to people’s lives for years without issue.
That is, until the start of this year. Responding to complaints from corporate tenants, NSW Police have been coming down and fining the providers parked on Martin Place. Pass it on Clothing has received three fines and are now being targeted each week.
“In January, the Police started coming in and were very heavy handed, issuing providers with immediate fines,” Chris said. “The community wants us to keep going. They think it’s not right, they don’t believe in social cleansing.”
“The corporate tenants don’t like the look of someone outside and they want to get them removed using the NSW Police as a lever to do that,” Chris continued. “It’s a sad indictment on society that the Police haven’t just said to them ‘Hey, nah, that’s not right what you’re trying to achieve and we’re not going to do it for you.’”
Because Pass it on Clothing provides services efficiently at night, when there’s no one else around in Martin Place, the community doesn’t understand why the complaints are happening.
“People park anywhere they want in any other part of the city, everybody understands what we’re doing. If there were dramas that would have happened long ago. It is one tenant in the building that is causing problems, and they obviously have the financial muscle and clout to get people in power to do things,” Chris said.
“We just think that’s completely wrong, that just because people have money or power, they can be treated any differently to anyone else.”
Shadow Minister for Water, Housing and Homelessness Rose Jackson MP recently posted a TikTok from Martin Place criticising NSW Police for the fines.
Members of the community can support Pass it on Clothing by donating to their annual GoFundMe page, buying socks from Posisocks with the discount code PASSITON (with every pair bought, one is donated to the clothing service), or buying something from one of Pass it on’s stores to be passed on for someone homeless.
Businesses can subscribe to Pass it On’s collection service through the 100 Club program (email email@example.com for more information).
Pass it on Clothing currently provides eight to ten services a month, but Chris wants to set up another location and get up to fourteen again. With plans to go to court over the fines, Pass it On needs all the support it can get from the community.