Brilliant individuals tackling everyday issues faced by homeless folk

Image courtesy: The Streets Barber Image courtesy: The Streets Barber

This article first appeared on SBS Life on February 16, 2016. Images supplied.

Many charities work tirelessly to provide much-needed support services and housing for more than 105,000 Australians who are homeless. Here are six initiatives that are taking a unique approach to helping those sleeping rough or at risk.

Ask Izzy

A University of Sydney study found that 95 per cent of homeless Australians have mobile phones, and of those 77 per cent are smartphones. Using mobiles as a ‘lifeline’, Ask Izzy launched in January. It’s a location-based mobile website that helps connect people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to 350,000 support services across Australia.

“For people experiencing homelessness, a phone is a lifeline, but finding services can be difficult and confusing. Ask Izzy puts service information in people’s hands so they can access it at any time,” says David Spriggs, CEO of Infoxchange, which helped develop the mobile website.

Available on mobile, desktop and tablet devices, Ask Izzy provides information on support services such as housing, legal advice, health, education, work, counselling and where to get everyday basics such as clothing and food.

The Streets Barber

Nasir Sobhani is The Streets Barber. After overcoming his own battle with drug addiction, Sobhani became a barber. It’s a job he loves.

Every Sunday, on his one day off a week, Sobhani takes to the streets of Melbourne and offers free haircuts to people who are homeless or doing it tough. He calls it his ‘Clean Cut, Clean Start’ initiative.

When asked about his work, Sobhani quotes Baha’i philosopher Abdu’l-Baha: “Service to humanity is service to God”.

The Aboriginal Project at The Wayside Chapel

The Aboriginal Project at The Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s Kings Cross is a program tailored to support the needs of the Indigenous community in a respectful way.

“It is a culturally appropriate space for our community, away from the disconnect previously encountered from being homeless or displaced,” says Monique Wiseman, the Aboriginal Project manager.

A holistic approach is taken to providing support services, such as pathways to education and employment. “It’s about creating a positive journey for the Aboriginal person and where they have come from.”

Activities include a living skills program, arts program and a weekly community lunch where attendees can also connect with providers, such as medical, legal and housing services. Wiseman says: “The lunch is mob-orientated. We come together and have one meal where everyone feels like they’re part of something, without any shame amongst their community.”

Milk Crate Theatre

Sydney-based Milk Crate Theatre works with an ensemble of people who are at risk of or have experienced homelessness. Through performance they aim to educate, inspire, build awareness and create positive social change by sharing the real life stories and experiences of the ensemble members.

“Milk Crate Theatre is changing the story of homelessness through theatre, creativity and artistic exploration to help build confidence and interpersonal skills within our community. With our partners across the sector we aim to help break the cycle of homelessness,” says Milk Crate Theatre CEO Jessica Hermosilla.

Milk Crate Theatre work centres around productions, their Stage Door Program, which includes workshops, mentorships and scholarships, and a schools program, where the ensemble work with and perform to students and teachers.

Orange Sky Laundry

Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett are the founders of mobile laundry service for the homeless, Orange Sky Laundry, and more recently, the winners of the 2016 Young Australians of the Year Award.

Back in 2014, the two friends, then aged 20, converted an old van into a mobile laundry to help Brisbane’s homeless community. With the support of some 270-plus volunteers they now operate six vans in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne CBD, South East Victoria and Perth. They hope to make Orange Sky Laundry not only a national initiative, but expand globally to Europe in March.

Co-founder Patchett says his favourite part of the journey is the people he’s met along the way. “We set up the machine, put the washing in, and it takes about an hour to wash and dry someone’s clothes. I think it’s this time that makes us unique – where you sit back and have a good chat. It’s really what I enjoy most about Orange Sky.”


HoMie is a Melbourne street-wear store where for every purchase made, one of equal value is donated.

“HoMie provides brand new clothing, training and job opportunities to people experiencing homelessness. As a social enterprise, it also aims to encourage young people through its street-wear label and one-for-one policy that caring for others is cool,” says Nick Pearce of Homeless of Melbourne, of which HoMie is an initiative.

Staffed by volunteers, HoMie hosts monthly VIP nights for Melbourne’s homeless community where they are given free clothes, food and a haircut. They also provide job opportunities and training to disadvantaged youth.