Jennifer Aaron

Essential services bringing dignity and hope to the homeless

Essential services bringing dignity and hope to the homeless

Modern urban living can create a disconnect from how we access our basic needs – food, water, shelter and clothing – and we forget how precious they are.

When everything we need is at hand – from the electricity and running water in our homes to the ease with which we shop for food, clothes and other essentials – we learn to take these comforts for granted. Only when we see homeless people living on the streets of our cities and suburbs, sleeping in parks and under bridges, are we reminded of how easy we have it. And how easily it can be stripped from us.

There are generous, good-hearted individuals and groups in our communities who are stepping up to make these life essentials more accessible to those with no home of their own. They are the volunteers, not-for-profits and entrepreneurs – some who have lived rough themselves – who are giving back to their fellow humans in need.

Launched in Melbourne in 2014, One Voice operates mobile shower busses in Melbourne, as well as Werribee, Sydney, and soon the Gold Coast, providing a safe, clean environment for homeless people to have a hot shower, shave, brush their teeth, and regain some dignity and connection with others.
The group also runs a social enterprise graphic design and printing service, which provides young homeless people with training and work opportunities, while offering competitive rates to the community.

The same year, Orange Sky Laundry launched its world-first mobile laundry in Brisbane. It was the “crazy idea” of two 20-year-old men, starting with only one van housing two washing machines and two dryers, offering free laundry services to the city’s homeless. The group now runs 11 services across Australia, including Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart and cleans up to 6.9 tonnes of laundry each week.

The service’s volunteers capitalise on the opportunity to engage with the homeless people they help – encouraging them to stay and chat for the one hour it takes to wash and dry their laundry. The enterprise also plans to partner with food vans, so people can eat while they wait for their laundry to be done.

The simple act of putting on clean clothes, “to look a bit more presentable”, as one client said in a video on their website, means the world to people living rough every day.

A number of grooming and free clothing services for the homeless operate in various cities, also with the aim of restoring the dignity and self respect that comes with looking your best. One story is particularly meaningful. Nasir Sobhani is better known as the Streets Barber. A reformed drug addict, Nasir now gives free haircuts to Melbourne’s homeless, saying the joy he sees in those he grooms brings him joy – and this has become his new addiction.

Melbourne clothing retailer, HoMie (which stands for Homeless of Melbourne Incorporated Enterprise) sells new designer ranges, while providing retail training and jobs for young homeless people. Once a month, they host a VIP shopping day inviting the homeless community to their store for a dignified shopping experience where they may choose five free items of new clothes and experience styling and grooming services along with refreshments.

Health services are another necessity we take for granted – and something that some organisations are providing to the homeless. Run entirely by volunteers, the annual Sydney Homeless Connect event attracts volunteer doctors, dentists, chiropractors, massage therapists – and vets – who donate their services to those in need. There are similar annual events in other Australian cities, providing these essential services.

With pets being the only companions for many homeless, realising the importance of this, some vets have started dedicated pet health services for them. Pets in the Park operates in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, with monthly clinics offering free pet vaccinations, medications and health checks. Project HoPe provides free veterinary services to Sydney’s homeless and financially disadvantaged from its base at Southern Cross Vets in St Peters.

The combination of a simple, yet brilliant business idea that also helps the underprivileged members of our community is truly inspiring and heart-warming. These organisations always need volunteers, too – so each one of us can play our part. 

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