Finding home: those who help the homeless

Written by City Editor

From homeless to home.


From homeless to home.


This is a kicker.

There are three types of addicts in this world.

There are people who are junkies, theyre the bad guys. They would rob a grandma to get the money to take the shot. Theyre violent and theyre not good guys.

Then theres the weekender. They party on the weekend and people think that theyre fine and that theyre okay people.

Then there are me and my friends here, and we just take the drug, the heroin, the ice, whatever we can get our hands on, because theres so much pain in our lives and we just need a moment of peace.

We just need this one moment to get us through what it is to live on the street, what it is to have so much darkness in our life. Were not bad people, were not junkies, were not partiers, we just need this break.

I would love you to tell them that.

The weight of this conversation is etched on Bel Wilsons face when she recalls it to me. Her eyes are glassy, her passion fierce and the frog in her throat threatening to break. Its people like the one in this conversation that keep her working to break the cycle of homelessness.

As much as his heart yearned to say he is a human being, his addiction weighed on him and it didnt stop just because he knew that he was more than his addiction, she says.

Bel is just one of many people in Melbourne in the not\-for\-profit sector working to break the cycle of homelessness that pervades the worlds most liveable city.

Ask anyone from Melbourne about the big issues we face as a city and homelessness will be on their list. Ask them again what they think homelessness looks like, and they will paint you a vivid picture of someone sleeping on the streets of the city, their possessions in a two metre radius of their sleeping body and forever hunting for their next feed.

Interestingly, the homelessness we see isnt the homelessness we need to fix. The majority of those experiencing homelessness are hidden from view, their reality far from our stereotyped idea of those on the streets.

For those working across the city to fix the problem, the general consensus is it’s issues like domestic violence, mental health, drug addiction, fractured relationships and a complete absence of stability at the core of the problem. Bluntly, your potential to grow without a roof over your head is as simple as where you were born and who you were born to.

However, for those same workers, thats about where consensus ends. The not\-for\-profit sector working on homelessness is a crowded one. Countless organisations are desperate to fix the problem, with few approaching it the same way.

So what are they each doing differently? And how are they going about it? Its a messy vortex of conflicting approaches but with an underlying sense of passion and desire to do good.

Each organisation within the not\-for\-profit sector is playing a different part in making Melbourne home for those without a conventional home.

This is just a glimpse of how they’re going about it.

**CHAPTER ONE: An inner city laneway offering refuge from the streets.**

_There is this unexplained safety in our laneway that the street community finds._

_”So everyone that comes into the laneway, before you even start to ask, ‘what are you here for?’_

_”Theyll say, ‘Oh, we just came because its safe here.’_

For Bel Wilson and [Urban Seed](, the laneway behind Credo Cafe is the bedrock of their organisation. They cannot house everyone that comes, nor can they physically offer their visitors the stability they crave. What they can do, however, is offer them a cup of tea, a safe place to shoot up and conversation about their day.

Baptist Place is nestled between some of the most booming businesses in Melbourne, finding itself enveloped by the bustle of the business district that surrounds it. Its the ultimate physical juxtaposition. Those without a home and needing a fix of heroin or ice will come to Baptist Place to safely shoot up, while others just metres away will run between meetings and coffee\-dates.

Were about human connection with people. We really believe what will bring about change in our society is connection and belonging. People can be given houses, but often they dont know what to do with them, Bel tells me, as we sat in a caf a stones throw from Baptist Place.

Urban Seed are the ultimate nurturers. Conversations, friendship and giving the people of Melbourne a support network are at the core of what they believe will break the cycle of homelessness.

Its about people coming, feeling able to be themselves and being safe. To be able to connect to another human being, and out of that connection grows another relationship which we hope could grow a change in circumstance, she says.

She tells me the story of a young man who frequents the caf. His partner, also on the streets, fell pregnant not long ago. He came to Bel recently and told her that he was doing okay and was sober for two weeks but the news of the pregnancy hit him hard. So he took a shot. He shared the news with her because he felt he could. And in sharing the news, he pledged to get sober again.

We have a little saying, Bel tells me.

We love the person first, but if they lose their addiction, or get a home, then thats an amazing feat. But we still loved them before that happened. We hope that they see that our love is independent of the good things in their life.

> On any given night in Australia 1 in 200 people are homeless.

Urban Seed and Bel are one of the only constants in so many lives. They are the ones that will not turn away, they are the ones that will not judge and they are the ones that will be an ear to any conversation. After all, Bel says, sometimes people just want to be asked about their day.

For them, no amount of services will help those without a home more than the knowledge that someone has faith in them.

Its about helping people rethink and re\-accept that theyre worth the good things. You are worth a house, you are worth being sober, you are worth connection and you are worth a community.

**CHAPTER TWO: Houses are made with hands, homes are made with hearts.**

_At uni they tell you never hug a client. Here, they always want a hug from you. They dont have family so were their family._

You leave. Then what?

Weve heard the stories, expressed sympathy. Dropped a few coins in a rucksack here and there. But how much thought have we actually given the then what?

The government provides short\-term crisis centres around Victoria for those at risk of experiencing homelessness. But here, the emphasis on short\-term is clear. As soon as short\-term clips the heels of permanency, the Victorian government takes things into their own hands. If the crisis seems unresolvable, its time to apply for public housing.

Applying for public housing is not dissimilar to an interface you might expect when filing a tax return. There are plenty of options and links, an endless list of criteria, further numbers to call and more criteria. Its bureaucracy at its finest.

> 2016 saw the highest rates of homelessness in the Melbourne CBD since 2008.

Roseanna Hughes from the [Lighthouse Foundation]( sees many flaws in the Governments approach to homelessness.

The government’s approach is very crisis driven and focuses on controlling behaviours. We know that if we get to the heart of their issues, which is their broken attachments, then those kinds of things will resolve themselves.

The Lighthouse Foundation is proudly not\-for\-profit.

We would love to be government funded, but to be funded we would have to do what they say. It limits things, and we dont want to do that because we know our way of doing things works.

The Lighthouse Foundation views homelessness as a complex beast. Simply giving a house to someone experiencing homelessness wont quite cut it. Addressing trauma is at the core of their work.

A misconception about young people who are homeless, who act out by being violent or running away or whatever, is that their behaviour is to be controlled when really its about giving them the first experience of a healthy relationship.

> In Victoria, over 22,000 people are homeless. Of these, about half are young people under 25 years of age.

Roseanna is studying social work at Monash University. As part of her course, she is instructed to keep relationships professional. Hugging clients? A definite no\-go.

Contrarily, hugging is part and parcel of the Lighthouse Foundation. Its a family after all.

Here, you know they always want a hug from you, which is fine because they dont have family so were their family. says Roseanna.

Owning a number of properties in and around Melbourne, Lighthouse works to provide young people with more than just a house. They want to create a home.

Nothing compares to the love of a nurturing family, but Lighthouse tries to create the next best thing; a sense of belonging. By strategically placing young people in houses with like\-minded individuals, a sense of community is fostered and friendships flourish.

Perhaps the most unique thing about Lighthouse is what they refer to as the Lifetime Membership.

Explaining that many government funded housing options are transitional, Roseanna is critical of the governments tendency to filter people through without thorough assessment of their situation.

A big issue is that when lots of people leave the accommodation they were in, they end up homeless again and it ends up costing the government more money.

All the work done by Lighthouse aims to arm young people with all the tools and traits to make it in the real world.

Simultaneously understanding the complexity of the issue and the niche service that her organisation provides, Roseanna is hesitant to single out Lighthouse as possessing the power to eradicate homelessness.

Soon after this rather somber assessment however, with a glint of pride and determination in her eye, she quips, if you dont want to be homeless again, were the best.

**CHAPTER THREE: Early intervention is better than cure.**

_Sometimes its about saying well, this young person needs a chance. And sometimes that chance works.”_

For most young people, leaving the family home is a choice. But for some kids, fronting homelessness is not a choice.

Its a common narrative fuelling one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding youth homelessness. The dialogue is all too familiar for Rebecca Swinton from [Kids Under Cover.](

The story goes: Kids dont like living by the rules of mum and dad. They dont like going to school or being told what to do, so they leave. And Rebecca tells us, In most cases, its not the truth.

“I think people just think these kids dont want to live at home. They dont see the issues theyre facing everyday.”

Rebecca hears the stories of young kids that are often never spoken of. From conflict in the home, mental health or not being able to sleep inside because there are six kids, mum and dad, but only three bedrooms. She shares a particular instance where a boy was bullied so badly by his brother, he couldnt bare be at home.

> 23 per cent of those fleeing their homes do so because of family violence.

But instances like these are where Kids Under Cover provide an alternative strategy that aims to prevent homelessness before it happens.

Located in the backyards of over 450 Victorian homes are studio houses. Each studio is equipped with a bedroom, a bathroom, but no living room or kitchenette. Inside them live young people aged between 12 and 25 years old. And theyre residing in the backyards of homes because they either have been, or are, at risk of homelessness.

With a primary focus on early intervention, Program Manager Brett Evans says Kids Under Cover are the only organisation in Australia running this type of model.

We have found specialising in a particular area means we know what we do works, and we know what doesnt work.

The model aims to link stable safe accommodation with education and training through its Studio Program and Scholarships. Its a unique approach combining the ideas of early intervention and connection, a dual\-concept both Brett and Rebecca place repeated emphasis on.

Just by giving that family a little bit of extra space, by giving the studio, alleviates that pressure between all the kids, explains Rebecca.

Endless literature supports the very ideas Kids Under Cover encompass \- young people who are more engaged with their immediate family or carers have better life outcomes. It also happens to be why kitchenettes are left out of studios, as it encourages them to engage with the family over mealtimes.

Kids Under Cover also offer scholarships to the young people who live in these studios. A scholarship means a notepad, a new pair of clothes or a haircut.It means a train ticket so they can to get to school, because previously they couldnt afford it. Most importantly, a scholarship provides an opportunity for the freedom and choice education offers.

Its about building connections and relationships, staying connected with work or schooling. Its those sort of things combined that give the young person the opportunity to potentially break whatever cycle they may have been a part of, or take chance of other opportunities that come their way.”

**CHAPTER FOUR: Stepping out of the cycle and towards a new life.**

_I heard that after coming to one of our VIP days, a young person felt confident enough to go back to school. They felt like they werent going to get bullied, it was like our clothes had given them a shield of armour._

For Nick Pearce, breaking the cycle of homelessness isnt about placing a roof over someones head. A roof is just a piece of material, a Band\-Aid solution, he says. Rather, the 23\-year\-old social entrepreneur believes that for people sleeping rough in Melbourne, its human connection, security and the promise of opportunity thats going to encourage people off the streets. And thats what his enterprise, [HoMie](, is committed to providing.

I always had this misunderstanding that it was the drug addict, or the alcoholic sleeping on the streets, Nick explains. But over time, I wanted to know a bit more about why it was people were in that situation, how they came to be there, and what I could do to help.

> 75 per cent of young people experiencing homelessness are expected to transition into long\-term homelessness.

Nick offers us a brief history of HoMie Apparel, or as its known to many, The Street Store that Gives. His curiosity was what lured Nick into starting his own social enterprise.

But realising he was about to enter a sector already bursting with not\-for\-profits working to eliminate the same issue, Nick decided that if HoMie was to put a dint in Melbournes homelessness epidemic, he was going to have to identify a clear\-cut niche.

I was blown away by how many services there are in Melbourne. If youre living on the streets, the reality is you can get by not comfortably but you can get by. You can get your three meals, have a shower. But if youre living the same day over and over again, its hard to stay motivated and very easy to fall back into old habits.

On any given night, there are 1,300 people experiencing homelessness in Melbourne. The largest proportion of these people are aged between 20 and 30 years old.

Nick tells us that one of the first people he met experiencing homelessness passed away recently. He was an older guy, and I think he died alone. Its sad for me to think about it, but it reaffirmed why its so important to focus on young people. Thats where we can break the cycle.”

Today, from their Brunswick Street faade, HoMie hosts regular VIP shopping days for disadvantaged youth who engage with community service organisations. And after forming a relationship with Melbourne charity The Ladder, in 2017 HoMie will launch an official pathway training program to help prepare young people whove previously endured homelessness and abuse for entry into the workforce.

For HoMie, its about helping young people out of homelessness, and into employment opportunities, so we can ensure the cycle doesnt perpetuate, he says.

> 52 per cent of youth experiencing homelessness are actively seeking work.

Nick understands there is a time and place for traditional, crisis\-based organisations. But he acknowledges that HoMie is another link in the supply chain, helping young people take the final steps away from homelessness, into a job and essentially, a new life.

HoMie has realised one of the best ways to engage Melbournes affluent population in the battle against homelessness is to take something they love say, shopping and turn it into an opportunity for charity.

This is something we started as a group of guys that had no exposure to homelessness, he says, admitting that while HoMies tackling homelessness with a unique, case\-by\-case approach, theyre not going to eradicate the problem alone.

But perhaps, as people like Nick work to disintegrate the stigma surrounding homelessness in Melbourne, more initiatives like HoMie will dedicate resources to giving people who have experienced homelessness that final nudge of confidence to break the cycle, once and for all.

About the author

City Editor