Sydney homeless charity targeted by fines due to corporate complaints

Pass It On Clothing & Co hands out free clothes to the needy in Martin Place, Sydney. Photo: Pass It On Clothing & Co/Facebook.

By TILEAH DOBSON

A charity organisation which assists homeless people in Sydney has been targeted by corporate tenants and police, and hit with multiple $275 fines.

Pass It On Clothing & Co is a social enterprise that delivers clothing to the homeless or less fortunate. Founded in 2016, the enterprise has delivered more than 195,00 items of high quality clothing to those in need.

The organisation distributes clothing in Martin Place every Tuesday, and also hands out free clothing in Arncliffe, Darlinghurst, Gosford and Parramatta.

The organisation started receiving parking fines at the beginning of the year, related to their work in Martin Place – a surprise to the charity as they had never before experienced this in the five years they have operated in Martin Place.

Pass It On co-founder, Chris Vagg, told The Sentinel he believed the wave of fines was sparked by new tenants in the vicinity.

“I believe the new tenants just found that they weren’t really liking the vision outside and so I think they’ve been putting pressure onto having everyone removed from Martin Place,” he said.

Despite having been in touch with Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich and working with the NSW Police, Pass It On has been unable to resolve the issue and the fines have continued – with the latest one received on Tuesday. Now, the issue has been taken up with NSW Shadow Minister for Water, Housing and Homelessness, Rose Jackson.

Lines of people waiting to receive clothing from Pass It On in Martin Place, Sydney. Photo: supplied.

The Covid factor

As one of the few charities still in operation during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pass It On had to change its model from the clients picking and choosing their own items, to giving them baskets of pre-packaged clothing, in order to comply with Covid-19 restrictions.

“There was no shutdown for us. We had to flip to a distribution model, to keep everyone safe,” Vagg said.

“We have a ute, which we fill up with the clothing packs that are already made up with socks, shorts, trackies, jumpers, pants, shirts. And for the women, there was a bit more, but that’s [what we switched to], so we could do it safely, and everyone could get their clothes quickly and move on.”

Now that Covid restrictions have eased, they’ve moved to a hybrid model comprising both off-the-rack choices and distribution. This has exacerbated the parking issues which have incurred the fines.

Despite Vagg offering a compromise of parking exclusively for the charity at certain times, it was turned down and no solution was offered by authorities.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Pass It On team had to change their distribution model in order to keep everyone safe. Photo: supplied.

Martin Place’s history of homeless support

What upsets Vagg the most is that the once safe space for the homeless and those wishing to help has been compromised.

“That space [Martin Place] has been a safe place for the homeless for decades. Two or three hours a night, services come in and cater to their needs and then move on, without a hitch in the world,” he said.

“Cool, if you don’t want to help the homeless, but just do no harm. Don’t make it worse. Which is what’s happening.”

– Chris Vagg, co-founder, Pass It On Clothing

“If you walk out of a building and you see people in need who look different to you accessing services, rather than frown on them, I think you should internally start smiling. Because you’re going to a safe place at night, surrounded by loved ones.

“Cool, if you don’t want to help the homeless, but just do no harm. Don’t make it worse. Which is what’s happening.”

It’s not the first time homeless support groups have been targeted in Martin Place. There have been intermittent disagreements between organisations providing services to the homeless, corporate tenants and authorities for a number of years.

In particular, the Occupy Sydney group, which maintained a continuous presence in Martin Place from October 2011 to October 2013, was the subject of numerous police raids, despite providing a valuable service to the homeless and less fortunate with a 24/7 on-site food bank.

“A rising lack of tolerance”

Volunteer for Pass It On Clothing & Co, Mike Galvin – who is the founder of the Darlo Darlings Group and Chair of the Surry Hills Business Partnership – has also expressed his disappointment at the way the social enterprise has been treated.

“Pass it On Clothing provide a quality, much-needed essential service. I’ve witnessed first-hand the relationships they’ve formed with our homeless community and the positive impact they make,” Galvin said.

“The recent events in Martin Place deeply saddened me and highlighted a rising lack of tolerance. Sydney should be a place for everyone, regardless of our living circumstances,” he said.

The Sentinel reached out to the police on the issue.

A NSW Police spokesperson said: “Regarding your inquiry, we don’t have a statement prepared on the matter. While police enforce the road rules, the legislation regarding parking are detailed in the NSW Road Rules 2014.”

Tileah Dobson is the news editor and sub-editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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