Homelessness ain’t goin’ out of fashion

Richmond high school students raising awareness and funds after seeing first-hand Downtown Eastside deprivation

One look at the mean streets of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver was all it took for a pair of 16-year-old Richmond high schoolers to know they had to do something to make things better.

Daphne Wong and Angela Yao were among a group of Grade 12 students from a Steveston-London social justice class who recently got a first-hand view of the dire conditions some homeless people endure.

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Part of their class project was to volunteer for a local charitable organization. But instead, they decided to use what they saw on the street as an inspiration to create their own organization, called Project ABC — which stands for Aspire, Become and Create — and host a fashion show at their school to raise funds and awareness for Vancouver’s homeless.

“We felt like we wanted to do something more,” Yao said.

“That trip to the Downtown Eastside really humbled us,” Wong added. “It was eye-opening. Some of the people we saw were younger than us.”

What they witnessed was open drug use, prostitution and people eking out a life in deplorable conditions.

“There also seemed to be a lot of mental health conditions with the people we saw,” Wong said, adding that, because her mother runs a store in the Chinatown area of downtown, she’s already seen how rough life can be on the streets.

“(Street) people come inside the store and there’s been many thefts,” she said, “as well as a lot of homeless people who just need someone to talk to them. They kinda just need a friend.”

“I never thought their conditions would be that bad and that there were so many people in need of help,” Yao said. “It’s not something you think about that much in Richmond.”

While they didn’t start ABC with the intention to become a school-based club, the idea took root, gained the guidance of a sponsor teacher and an awareness and fundraising fashion show event has been planned at the school on Dec. 9.

“Now we have a small committee working to put on the show,” Wong said.

Money at the event will be raised through admissions, which will be done on a donation basis, and a silent auction of items donated by local businesses.

In terms of the fashion show portion, the event will feature clothes donated by students and worn by an array of models.

“Anyone can be one of our models,” Yao said. “No experience is needed.”

“There’s no height requirement,” Wong added. “You can be just a regular person.”

The students are using donated clothes to show “we don’t have to wear fancy items to be able to have a fashion show,” Yao said. “We can use what we already have and create more from that.”

Once the show is over, the donated clothing will be sent to charitable groups, including Covenant House and Pathways Clubhouse.

To help promote awareness of the plight homeless people across the Lower Mainland experience, a number of guest speakers have been invited to come and address the audience.

“We have asked some people from Pathways Clubhouse to come and talk about mental health issues and give us their testimonies,” Wong said.

“There’s a lot of stigma around mental health that we are hoping to remove by doing this.

“I think that many families have members who are struggling with either living in poverty or are not willing to accept their mental illness,” she added.

“So, I hope that people who attend help the people around them.”

The Project ABC fashion show is set for Dec. 9 at Steveston-London secondary (6600 Williams Road) and runs from 6 – 9 p.m. Suggested admission donation is $7.

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