April 11, 2016
Nick Pearce and Marcus Crook, co-founders of Homeless of Melbourne and HoMie, work alongside friends Robert Gillies and Ed Beasley to support Melbourne’s homeless.
From an idea to share the stories of Melbourne’s homeless community on Facebook, the group now manage a registered not-for-profit ‘Homeless of Melbourne’ and operate retail social enterprise ‘HoMie’, which provides a new item of clothing to the homeless for every item purchased in store.
Nick and Marcus share their story of working to change community perceptions of the homeless community, developing a permanent retail operation in HoMie and their experience working through the Crunch program so far.
How did the Homeless of Melbourne initiative originally start?
MC: I was working in the city and would see homeless people around and I just started talking to them on my lunch breaks, mostly out of curiosity. What I found when I actually spoke to them was that they weren’t stories of drug and alcohol abuse, most of them were victims of circumstance – a lot of them just found themselves in a difficult place in their lives.
I found their stories really interesting and I thought I could help by sharing their stories to try and help change people’s perception about homeless people. Even if it just encouraged just one more person to stop and have a chat with them, I thought that it would be worthwhile.
How did the four of you all come together as a team?
NP: Marcus and I did a bike ride together through Vietnam in 2013 which raised awareness of child trafficking and after that we decided to start working on the Homeless of Melbourne initiative together. Marcus would go out and chat to the local homeless community and take the photos and then I’d write up the articles and post them.
Then Robbie mentioned that he wanted to get involved, so I organised for him to meet Marcus and we went on from there. Rob was the one that managed the registration of the Homeless of Melbourne as a registered NFP and set it up formally – neither of us had those capabilities.
Then another friend of ours helps us out with managing the accounts and the financials, so we all work together as a team.
How did the retail arm of HoMie develop?
MC: Back in 2014, we decided to co-host a pop-up shop in Federation Square, ‘The Street Store’, where people could come along and donate clothes and goods that they no longer wanted, but things that were still really high quality. We also then invited the homeless community to come down and to choose items they wanted.
What we found was that it was such a great experience, it was a real feel good vibe for the community who were coming down to share their goods and also for the homeless community.
After that, we started thinking about how we could do this more permanently and with a bit of help from Pozible and Grill’d, we got some crowdfunding and it all came to fruition after that.
NP: The element of community giving was really important to us, and so we’ve looked to continue that philosophy of making a contribution. Whether it’s through direct donations or by shopping at HoMie where we then provide clothing, training and job opportunities, the community still feel like they’re giving something which is really personal and intimate.
The Street Store was also a really respectfully conducted event and the HoMie store itself also operates with a lot of integrity. The store’s VIP days when the homeless community are invited in to choose clothing and for haircuts are a really personal experience.
So for us, it’s been about trying to emulate that experience on The Street Store day where there was that notion of giving really selflessly and people receiving it in a really dignified way.
What feedback have you had from the homeless community on the support they receive from HoMie?
NP: The feedback we get from the homeless community is overwhelmingly positive. For them, it’s really the fact that they can choose things at their own discretion. They can pick things that they want themselves, not things that they’ve just been given, which happens a bit when you’re experiencing disadvantage. They have that empowerment and being treated as equals is really important.
It’s also something special for them in what is a tough period of their lives that they’re going through. Our aim is that they can look back and think, ‘that was a rough time but I had a really positive day at HoMie, that was a day that I felt really supported’.
Is the focus now on growing and scaling the operations for HoMie?
NP: That is a big part of our focus, but it’s also about consolidating what we do. We’re constantly refining and ensuring that we’re always improving our services and trying to do the best for the people we support.
The main thing for us is creating a quality product that’s coming from a verifiable source – we can’t be supporting one end of society and exploiting another. We’re always ensuring that everything we do is high quality and that everything we provide is really ethically produced. For us, trying to create a comprehensive ethical workplace is probably more of a priority than scaling.
Eventually we’d like to have a few HoMies, whether it’s another one in Australia or one overseas, but we want to make sure that they’re done really well and with a lot of integrity, transparency and respect. We always want to be adhering to those core values.
What prompted you to apply for Social Traders’ Crunch?
NP: It popped up in Robbie’s news feed! Plus we’d heard about it before and knew it provided access to a great network of support and expertise.
For us, being introduced to other people who were doing similar things to ourselves and sharing the trials and tribulations they’re facing was the real incentive for us. It can sometimes be quite lonely when you’re starting things up initially and it’s a lot of hard work. It’s great to be a part of a community and network of people that support each other and believe in what you’re doing.
What’s been the most interesting part of the Crunch process so far?
NP: Having the chance to go back and revisit and refine our processes and really understand our core values and vision has been really beneficial because that’s going to influence all the decisions we make as a result.
There’s also a real genuine interest from the people we’re working with through the Crunch and they know a lot about what we’re doing – it’s just not broad general information, it’s really specific advice which is fantastic. That’s been one of the best things working with the coaches so far for me, all the consideration and work behind it.
Ultimately, what’s the main thing you’re hoping to work through for HoMie in the Crunch?
NP: Really consolidating a clear vision and focus going forward. We’ve already done a lot, but having a clear view of of what the future of HoMie is, that’s really important.
We’re already up and trading, so we’re already pretty progressed in our processes, but we still have a lot of work to do. It’s really is just having that vision in mind and knowing where we want to go and how we’re going to get there. Understanding more about ourselves, and our organisations and how we’re moving forward.