Formerly homeless men strut on catwalk to raise money for Winnipeg shelter

Six formerly homeless men rocked suits and ties as they walked the runway Thursday to raise money for the shelter that got them off the street.

'I feel like a million bucks,' says man who lived at Main Street Project on and off for 5 years

Six formerly homeless men rocked suits and ties as they walked the runway Thursday to raise money for the shelter that got them off the street. 0:50

Six formerly homeless men rocked suits and ties as they walked the runway Thursday to raise money for the shelter that got them off the street.

The Runway to Change fashion show fundraiser took place at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg to raise money for the Main Street Project homeless shelter.
Marvin Reid participated as a model in the Runway to Change fashion show Thursday because he wanted to give back to the Winnipeg shelter that helped him get back on his feet. (CBC)

"[I'm] feeling like a million bucks," Marvin Reid, sporting a grey fitted suit, said after the show.

The fashion show was a demonstration of Winnipeg's huge heart.- Rick Lees, Main Street Project

Reid started looking forward to the night long before Thursday. The men were fitted for custom-made suits by staff at Eph Apparel two weeks ago.

"Behind the curtain there, I was very nervous when I started hearing the hooting and hollering, [thinking] 'Oh my god, I don't know if I can do this,'" said Reid, who relied on the shelter for a place to stay for several years. "I kind of loosened up.… It was a lot of fun."

The fashion show doubled as a school project for co-creators Ashley Tokaruk, 23, and Madelaine Lapointe, 20, who are Red River College creative communications students. The pair wanted to put on a fashion show to raise money for the homeless because they both have someone in their lives living on the street.

They settled on Main Street Project (MSP) as the shelter they wanted to work with about a year ago.

"What differentiates MSP from other homeless shelters in the city is they don't turn anyone away, whether or not they're under the influence or whatever issues they have," said Tokaruk.

"We went there and got to take a tour. It was such a family, and we connected with that instantly."

Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project, said the large audience Thursday shows how Manitobans can better their communities when they come together to help people like Reid.

'A spiral down'

Reid struggled with addiction issues that cost him his job and landed him at the Main Street Project several times over the past five years.

"It was just a spiral down," he said.

Ashley Tokaruk, left, and Madeline Lapointe co-created the Runway to Change fashion show.

Most recently, Reid stayed at the shelter for about a year and a half. He graduated from the shelter just before Christmas and is now staying next door at Main Stay, Main Street Project's transitional housing program.

"I used to sleep on a mat at Main Street Project, but now I have my own room," he said.

"It's so much more relaxed. You can do so much more. It's really hard when you're sleeping on a mat and carrying everything in a backpack. It's tough to do anything, it really is."

Hundreds of people attended the fashion show, and professional models strutted the runway before Reid and five others from the shelter closed the show to a round of applause.

Videos of the men — stories of who they were, what they liked, how they became homeless and how the shelter helped them — rolled on a big screen throughout the show.

Giving back

Reid still volunteers at Main Street Project and said he got involved in the fashion show because he wanted to give back to the program that put a roof over his head and helped him get back on his feet.

Marvin Reid struts his stuff on the catwalk Thursday at the Runway to Change fashion show fundraiser. (CBC)

"They treat you like friends, like human beings," Reid said. "It is such a good place. The staff is so awesome.… This is one way I can give back and help people like me."

Reid spent years distanced from his family and friends because of his struggles. He recently reunited with his sister, who was in the audience Thursday and cried tears of joy when her dapper brother walked out.

She told the organizers it was so nice to see Reid so full of hope leading up to the event.

"It feels just awesome, and I was just so happy I was able to get her a ticket," Reid said.

It cost about $10,000 to put on the event, $6,000 of which was covered by sponsorships. Lapointe said a silent auction alone raised more than $6,000, and while they still have to do a final tally, Main Street Project stands to receive several thousand dollars in proceeds from the event.

The men also get to keep the suits they wore on the runway.

"The fashion show was a demonstration of Winnipeg's huge heart," Lees added.