ZacPacs For The Homeless
My name is Zachary Weinberg. I am twelve years old and in sixth grade at Collingwood School. I am an active member of the WE Organization's Youth Advisory Committee ("YAC"). I have been involved in the "WE Walk for Water Campaign" which improves access to clean water for developing communities around the globe and have visited WE Villages and schools in India where these clean water projects have been put into action. I am passionate about supporting those that need help both internationally and locally.
I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and moved to Vancouver 4 years ago. Vancouver is a beautiful, affluent, world-class city, but like other cities across North America, Vancouver has a growing homeless population. The homeless here are concentrated in areas like the Downtown Eastside and tent cities like Oppenheimer Park. When I first moved to Vancouver, I was shocked to see just how many people are living on the streets. I felt like I had to do something to help.
My initiative began in the fall of 2018 by learning about the problem from people who work with people experiencing homelessness. I was connected with the outreach team at the Coast Resource Centre which is run by Coast Mental Health. I learned that the homeless count has been on an upward trend and that there is a severe shortage of affordable housing in Vancouver. I discovered that 38% of the homeless population reported a physical disability and over 44% have a reported mental health issue. This doesn't factor in the many who do not receive medical care and diagnosis.
There is also a great deal of stress, anxiety and trauma experienced among the homeless and some suffer from addiction and other health issues. Coast and other organizations take a "housing first" approach because it is impossible for any individual to live a healthy and productive life without having a safe place to call home.
While many things need to happen to address the problems around the lack of subsidized housing and issues of mental health care, I thought about what a then 11 year-old kid could do to make a difference. When the Coast Outreach Team told me many of their clients come into the centre without shoes and socks. I immediately knew that socks were a relatively low cost item that I along with other kids my age could potentially help collect in a sock drive.
I then asked about other needed items and learned that Coast offered shower facilities but couldn't provide toothbrushes which got me thinking about all kinds of things I might be able to provide. With the input of Coast, a wish list of essential items was created included: toques, gloves, socks, reusable water bottles, emergency blankets, granola bars, collapsable umbrellas, rain ponchos, dental care items and shampoo.
I had to figure out what to put all the items in. I wanted something that would stand up to the very wet weather in Vancouver. The bag had to be waterproof and durable and easy to carry. With the help of my parents, we found a 20 litre dry bag which became the "ZacPac".
The next thing was to calculate how much money I would need and how much I could raise. How many people would get a ZacPac? Through my research, I knew that the Vancouver homeless count in 2019 was at an all time high of about 2,200. I decided that my goal was to create a "ZacPac" that would include as many of the essential items as possible for EVERY homeless person in Vancouver. To my knowledge, this initiative was the first of its kind in our city, intended to reach everyone; men, women and youth.
My goal was to raise $100,000 and I began fundraising in October 2019. By February 2020 I had exceeded my goal, including generous donations in kind. The total raised was over $130,000.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of my donors, I was able to include every item of my wish list plus a scarf, 6x8 tarp and a transit ticket. The retail value of each bag and its contents is over $130. We were only able to achieve this through the generosity of donors and the companies who donated or provided goods to us at far below cost. What has been most gratifying is the positive feedback I have received about the 'thoughtfulness' of the items and the lightweight, waterproof bag itself. Knowing this is making a difference in peoples' lives is so personally rewarding.
It is my firm belief that shelter is not a privilege, rather, it is a basic human right. The aim of the ZacPac Project is to make a difference in the lives of people who are courageously waiting for a permanent roof over their head. Until then, I want to help keep them warm and dry and let them know we care.
I again thank our donors, our volunteers, my friends at the WE Organization, the Coast outreach team and my parents for supporting me with initiative. I could not have done it without your help and I am forever grateful for everyone's contribution to the success of the ZacPac Project.
Chair, The ZacPac Project
Weinberg Foundation Inc.
@zacpacproject on Instagram and Facebook
VANCOUVER SUN ARTICLE
WE DAY VANCOUVER 2019 VIDEO
For further information and a presentation I prepared on the homeless in Vancouver please visit this website link: