A look at Australian philanthropy: HoMie - the street store that gives

Homeless of Melbourne Inc (HoM) is an innovative Melbourne-based charity working hard to improve the lives of the city’s homeless – and the recent opening of their pop up store HoMie will help them do just that.

Taking a different view

HoM is a project born of curiosity. It was started back in 2014 when retail worker and photographer Marcus Crook began chatting to Melbourne’s homeless on his lunchbreaks, sometimes asking to take a photo of them if he had his camera handy.

Driven by a desire to gain some insight into their circumstances, Crook found the more homeless people he spoke to, the more he realised many were victims of circumstance who had slipped through society’s safety nets.

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Recognising the potential to raise community awareness and help change attitudes around homelessness, he created the Homeless of Melbourne Facebook page and began sharing their stories online. Soon after he teamed up with friend Nick Pearce and together they conducted interviews and took photos of consenting subjects, and shared their stories online.

The HoM Facebook page quickly grew a loyal following (it currently sits at 23,000 Likes). Wanting to do more to help the homeless, Robert Gillies and Edward Beasley joined the team and Homeless of Melbourne was established as a charity in 2015.

Retailing gets real

Last December HoM held Street Store at Federation Square, co-hosted with GiDi Creative and Free is Better, they sold quality donated goods and clothing to raise funds for their cause. It was so successful they followed it with a crowdfunding campaign – which they exceeded – to open the new HoMie pop up store in Melbourne Central.

Opened on June 29, the premise behind HoMie, the ‘street store that gives’, is a simple but effective one. Each time a transaction is made in store, HoMie will give an item of clothing to a person experiencing homelessness. They will also be providing free haircuts, a washing machine for laundry purposes and an array of workshops in-store for Melburnians experiencing homelessness.

HoMie says among its charitable outcomes are to “break down social barriers and provide a dignified shopping experience to those experiencing homelessness. Those experiencing homelessness are ‘VIP’ customers, and are invited to shop for free at designated times, thereby reversing the conventional social hierarchy.”

They also hope to make donating easy and popular, whereby the general public – through buying new but donated clothing at normal pricing – know their purchases are helping Melbourne’s homeless.

The human element 

It’s been an immensely busy but extraordinary time for the HoM team. “Because we're all volunteering our time at HoMie, you can't stay on-task and motivated week after week unless you're literally having fun at work and feeling good about what you're achieving. It just wouldn't be possible, at least not for me,” says Robbie Gillies of HoM.

“My favourite moments have been those when I’m simply hanging out with the team after a long day, or spending time with those experiencing homelessness; hearing their stories, chatting to them, and just making new friends.”

Indeed, some 300 volunteers, which the HoM team have dubbed ‘HoMies’ a term they define as ‘someone who looks out for others’, will help run the store over its 12-week duration. Much of the store’s stock has also been donated by businesses and companies – including Snowgum, Cotton On and Target – and will sit alongside HoMie’s own in-house label.

Getting behind causes you believe in

While it’s evident through his involvement with HoM that Gillies is very much charitably inclined, he acknowledges that this differs from person to person. “I think that it probably varies for everyone – that getting involved in charitable work will be enormously rewarding and fulfilling for some, and that it may not be so attractive to others. We all have different moral frameworks in life, and sometimes charity doesn’t fit into that world view. For me it does, and I’m pretty aware of that – I need to feel like I’m helping, it’s something that is quite important to me. And that tends to drive me into these situations where I’m spending my free time contributing to social projects. But the personal rewards go beyond pure altruism – I love the work because I’m constantly getting out and meeting new people, developing really valuable new skills, and working with a young, creative, and vibrant team. It’s really uplifting and invigorating. My advice to anyone reading this would be if you’ve never got involved with a charity or volunteering, that you should give it a go. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

He adds: “I completely understand that for others it may not be their cup of tea. And that extends to businesses. With business, directors have to be driven by the interests of their company, and that’s important. If you don’t remain impartial and calculated in your decision-making, you’re not doing your job competently. That doesn’t mean you can’t help your community though! Often social work is in the best interests of the company, for a multitude of reasons, and where that is the case I similarly encourage businesses to consider the mutual benefits, give it a go, and get behind some local or international causes!”

The HoMie pop up store is located at Site 247, Level 2, Melbourne Central, Corner of LaTrobe and Swanston Streets, Melbourne.

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