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Thrift shop assists recovering women

Store fronts homeless shelter

There's more than meets the eye at a new vintage shop across from the Army and Navy store on West Cordova Street.

Enter Community Thrift and Vintage and you'll see a table of jeans, shelves of shoes, a nook of purses, dresses, and clothes for men arranged by colour bordering an exposed brick wall. Baskets from Chinatown serve as hanging lamps, wood reclaimed from a loft in the former office space forms the cash desk and a cluster of ornately framed mirrors hang outside the dressing rooms.

The shop not only stocks a collection of clothing and accessories that range from $5 to $30, but also provides training and part-time work experience to women recovering from addiction. "We're cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap. Our whole reason for being is so that we can employ more people," said owner Jenni Lee Nelson.

Community Thrift and Vintage, 41 West Cordova St., is a social enterprise sponsored by PHS Community Services Society that fronts the Stanley/New Fountain hotel and homeless shelter.

When Andy Bond, a manager of several PHS hotels and two of its social enterprises, mentioned his idea for a social enterprise secondhand clothes shop, Lee Nelson jumped at the chance to manage it.

She worked at True Value Vintage on Robson Street for a decade and designed a new and used clothing line there. She and two part-time staff train five women who live in PHS hotels to handle clothes and then customers. The women work four to eight hours a week for an honorarium.

According to Lee Nelson's business plan, Community Thrift and Vintage should see a profit in 18 months and will donate those profits to assorted charities and non-profits in the Downtown Eastside. She is paid a regular salary.

Trainee Sheree McKay stopped taking prescription medication for bipolar disorder in 2001 and ended up homeless and addicted to heroin and cocaine for nine years, so she appreciates the opportunity to work part time while she focuses on boosting her mental, physical and emotional health. Her weekly schedule includes seeing a psychiatrist, individual counselling, a 12-step program, a stop-smoking program, anger management, mindfulness training, swimming and creative writing.

"It's good for your self-esteem to know that you have some sort of employment," said the 42-year-old with artfully arranged curly dark hair, dangly earrings, thick eyeliner and red nail polish.

McKay spent her drug-addicted, psychotic days looking for her next hit. She credits PHS with saving her life, after it housed her at the society's Washington Hotel, and helped give her a stable home at the Rainier. She also overdosed twice at the InSite supervised injection site, which is run by PHS. "It's nice that I'm able to do something that's helping me and helping the people who have helped me," she said.

Community Thrift and Vintage opens Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. To donate clothing, contact [email protected].

[email protected]

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi