Given the world’s volatile climate of late, there seems to be a magnetic undertow of social and cultural mobilisation: for the first time in a long time, people are crying out for stuff to have meaning.
At this time there are approximately 100,000 people who are currently homeless in Australia. When defining homelessness, one might jump to assume it looks only one way: living on the streets. It is a vastly misunderstood issue that clouds public opinion, and the stigma for those involved is a disservice. Many of these assumptions are addressed in ABC’s ‘You Can’t Ask That.’ There are about 6,000 people doing it rough at any given time: this means no connection with services at all. That leaves 94,000 disadvantaged people in what is classified as ‘Secondary’ or ‘Temporary Homelessness,’ meaning these individuals may be regular couch surfers, they may live in their car or in supported accommodation and are linked to services like the Melbourne City Mission.
If we could get someone to stop and say G’day, that could change someone’s day. We never really anticipated having our own shop or brand or anything like that, it was more of an awareness piece. But now it’s gotten to a point where the community is pretty heavily involved; we’ve gotten a lot of support, it has grown organically
Meet the original trio. They are the ‘three amigos,’ Nick, Marcus and Robbie, creators and owners of Melbourne based streetwear brand, HoMie. Nick and Robbie befriended one another at school, Nick and Marcus met on a fundraising bike ride raising funds and awareness for anti-trafficking of children in Vietnam and Cambodia. Robbie is now a doctor at the Royal Alfred Hospital but still has essential ties to the business, Nick runs management, Marcus runs design.
Initially, their connection to community gained traction through their blog/Facebook page ‘Homelessness in Melbourne,’ which aimed to give homelessness a face and story to dispel stigma. The collated pictures and stories were the result of Marcus’ inquiry into the homeless experience after moving from small country town, Colac, to the inner city of Melbourne. Marcus describes, “I was working in the city at the time, seeing the number of people on the streets just growing. I’d never really seen or experienced anyone who was homeless, or even learnt about it at school. In my lunch breaks I would talk to people and find out how they got in that situation and what it was they were after. I would hear stories from their point of view. I started to realise that it’s not the stereotype of just a drug addict or an alcoholic: there are things that happen in people’s lives which can lead people to turn to those sorts of things to get a bit of a break from whatever it is they’re dealing with. These are people just like you and I.”
Melbourne’s a great environment. It’s the home of social enterprise. Little things are popping up everywhere. There are places where you can eat, drink coffee, shop and drink beers and everything goes towards something good. It’s a really exciting time to be in that sector.
In December 2014, they opened a pop up street store in Federation Square, aptly titled ‘The Dignify Shopping Experience.’ A kind of ‘cardboard thrift store,’ they invited people from their Facebook page to bring along good to new quality clothing for donation and purchase, and encouraged those experiencing homelessness to choose what they’d like, enjoy some good food and music and hopefully, to connect. Such was the success of the day, that in June 2015 they opened their first permanent store in Fitzroy.
For us, we’re very committed to doing things the right way. It sounds cliché and romantic, but we really are committed to working with one person at a time on a case by case basis. Our goal is to help these young people experiencing homelessness to find their passion, and to hopefully turn it into a career. And we can support them as friends and as a network going forth.
Street wear seemed like the best fit, Nick explains, “we thought, our mates shop at your General Pants or whatnot, let’s try to create a shop and a brand that people want to support: to make caring cool. There’s real purpose in trying to engage people from our demographic, to find a way to get them to give back to charity and create a tangible and transparent means of doing so.” Long gone is the traditional coin tin, incoming are innovative means of making an impact. The business works in cooperation with over 21 services; for young people, housing, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, as well as other issues like domestic violence or disability.
The second half of their social impact is their VIP days. Once a month they invite a service with 20-30 of their clients in store. They are welcomed with food, access to hairdressers and makeup artists and are allowed to choose 5 items of clothing as per their personal style. And here is the power in it: choice. They aren’t dismissively given hand me downs, they are addressed as individuals, with their own style. HoMie knows that clothing isn’t going to solve the entire issue of homelessness, but small gestures such as these can help to encourage young people to go to school, or help an individual feel pride in even walking to the shops. So far, 500 people have come in to HoMie and shopped for free, 24 services have come through their doors, and they’ve clocked 3,500 items of free clothing given, plus essential items.
That’s our mission now, to try and provide as many jobs as we can for younger kids to stop that cycle of homelessness so we don’t get older people on the streets in the city.
The HoMie ‘Pathway Project,’ has grown from a volunteer program to an official renumerated employment and formal training scheme: HoMie provides the platform, learning materials and experience to deliver a comprehensive approach to their wellbeing. After tenure with HoMie, young people have the opportunity to pursue employment at Cotton On. The program has been running for 3 months so far, and guarantees 16 hours a week casual employment (12 hours in store and 4 in the classroom), as well as a Certificate III in Retail Operations. “It’s really meaningful. A lot of the time we find that’s it’s the intangible that makes a real difference to these young people. It’s giving them self confidence, developing their inter-personal skills. For the first time on Saturday, our three young people manned the store themselves, opened and closed, which was awesome. That’s what this is all about, it’s about empowerment, giving them opportunities, and they’re really just grasping it with both hands. It’s really evolved through little learnings.”
Out of the many awards HoMie has picked up, Nick upholds the ‘You’re Awesome’ Award from the young folks at Melbourne Academy who’ve experienced homelessness or social issues themselves. Nick gushes, “they held an event as an ‘Acknowledgement Day’ and we were awarded one of those. To these young people, it’s about who’s genuinely made a difference and an impact. So that’s in a frame in the shop; they’re our peers and the people we’re really trying to get to and the fact that they believe in what we’re doing and think we’re worthwhile... It’s absolutely the most important one we’ve ever received.”
The future looks promising. Nick and Marcus hope to grow from three to six young people training in store next year, and to continue to assimilate people into sustainable long-term employment. They’d like to extend their outreach to employing people for T shirt printing and potentially creating a social media team from those they meet through the Pathway Project. They’re still searching for more suitable partners who wish to collaborate with quality and care.
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