The Street Store: Pop-up charity for the homeless

Cape Town’s Street Store uses public spaces to provide clothing for the homeless locally and abroad.

Cities around the world have wealthy people living alongside the less fortunate. Cape Town is an example of this disparity in which affluent people move past homeless individuals without ever connecting. The Street Store aims to change this by facilitating a temporary meeting point between these groups to benefit the impoverished.

Kayli Lee Levitan, a co-founder of The Street Store, describes the starting point of this initiative and the realisation that conventional methods of charity are uninspirational.

“Our client, The Haven Night Shelter for the homeless, wanted to bring in donations and generate awareness. We didn’t want to do just a cold clothing drive, because while it may make people donate once, we wanted to make them want to donate in the future too.

My co-founder, Max Pazak, and I were standing on our 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,” she says.

Levitan explains the circle of degradation that homeless people face on a daily basis – a cycle that The Street Store aims to shatter.

“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 [of money], rather than people. This vicious cycle of dehumanisation separates these two worlds.”

The Street Store launched successfully in January 2014. Its progress has been due, in part, to the minimal nature of its infrastructure. It is a rent-free, pop-up charity that can be held in any city across the globe with the help of volunteers and a few pieces of cardboard.

Open-source poster designs can be downloaded from Once printed, the designs are assembled and used as hangers and place mats to hold clothing donations. The donated items are hung on an outdoor fence for the homeless to browse through.

Once the event has ended and all items of clothing have been taken, the cardboard posters are collected and recycled, leaving no trace of The Street Store.

Collaboration with a local homeless shelter or organisation is encouraged since volunteers are needed to administrate the event. As for the location, an appropriate public space with a large fence is preferable as a way to connect the homeless to the city.

The Street Store encourages privileged people to be charitable anonymously and does so with little to no expense. It provides clothing to those who need it most and saves them the humiliation of having to beg for a necessity.

Successful Street Stores have been held in Cape Town, Brussels, Kuala Lumpur, Vancouver, Sao Paulo and Kentucky among many other cities. It continues to bring relief to the lives of homeless people internationally.

“We just want The Street Store to continue growing around the world. We are continually adding new languages and assisting people globally to make their dream of hosting a Street Store come to life. Since 14 January 2014, more than 500 stores have popped up in 200+ cities – we’d like this number to continue growing… forever,” says Levitan.