ASHTON Brown is below the legal age for voting, driving and working, but being 11 hasn’t stopped him from starting his own charity to help the homeless.
The Year 6 student from St Francis Xavier Primary School, Goodna, is the founder of Homeless Helpers, a soon-to-be registered charity that was born from watching YouTube videos of people sleeping rough.
“Every time I watched a video it was just really sad and I started to cry a little bit,” Ashton said.
“I just went up to Mum and said, ‘Mum I want to help people around the world that don’t have a home’.”
Proud mum Jacqui Brown said while the family couldn’t afford to go out and purchase goods for the homeless, they could organise a fundraiser.
Within two weeks Ashton had planned his first event, a car wash in his Goodna backyard raising $310 about 18 months ago.
By the time Ashton turned 11 on May 7, he had already raised thousands of dollars for the homeless and received hundreds of bags of donations.
“We usually get at least four garbage bags of donations a week,” Ashton said.
“We fill the car every week.”
Every fortnight Ashton and his mum hand out their donations and purchases to around 150 “rough sleepers” at Street Feed, an event held in both Goodna and Spring Hill.
In between handing out blankets, sleeping bags and coffees to the homeless, Ashton also sits down with the patrons to talk about life on the streets.
“They say I’m doing a good job and that I should keep it up,” Ashton said.
“It makes me feel nice because I’ve actually made someone’s day.”
Ashton said he hopes to raise enough money to buy a caravan for his charity.
“It’s going to be called Homeless Helpers Happy Place,” Ashton said.
“One side is going to be shelving, and that’ll have food, coffee, first aid and toiletries, and the other side we’ll give free hair cuts and flu shots,” his mum said.
But his ultimate dream for Homeless Helpers is to open “a free hotel for the homeless” where Ashton will offer a place to sleep, eat and run programs to get them steady jobs and eventually their own home.
Being under 18, Ashton can’t legally sit on his own charity committee, but will lead the first Homeless Helpers Youth Committee to develop fundraising ideas and pack all purchases and donations for their homeless friends.
Ms Brown, who was elected president of Homeless Helpers, said his son was the brains behind the charity, which was only meant to be a small project.
“This was only something that was supposed to be kept small but so many people wanted to help,” Ms Brown said.
“He’s always been a big-hearted kid though.
“I just wanted to show him that I believe in you and if you want to do it, let’s do it.”
Ms Brown said her son’s big heart to support the homeless had also given him a new lease on life.
Diagnosed with ADHD, Ashton was previously getting into trouble at school, receiving internal suspensions and spiralling “worse and worse” into his disorder.
Ms Brown said the YouTube videos of homeless people actually pulled him out of his rut and gave him a new focus.
St Francis Xavier Primary School, where he has attended since January, has also been “a saviour” for the family.
“He’s got the new focus, the happy school and we’re away,” Ms Brown said.
School principal Veronica Lawson said she only heard about Ashton’s charity when the local newspaper reported about it two weeks ago.
“I think he keeps his light under a bushel,” Mrs Lawson said.
“I’m on bus duty and every afternoon and every day he tells me how his day has gone, but never once has he said, ‘I do this really important work’, or ‘I do this for other people’.”
The school is now planning on organising a fundraising event next term to support Homeless Helpers.
The community already works with the Goodna St Vincent de Paul Society, which provides emergency support for the vulnerable in the Western suburbs, including Ashton’s own peers.
“I know there are people who struggle because I hear about it,” Mrs Lawson said.
“‘I can’t send my children to school today because I haven’t got money to buy food’ – that’s been said to us, or ‘I have to choose between my high school child who goes to St Peter Claver or my children who come to St Francis Xavier because I’ve only got this amount of petrol’.
“That’s the reality.”
And it’s a reality that brought tears to young Ashton’s eyes.
“To me, it’s just doesn’t make me feel right,” he said.