The business of helping the homeless

Philip Endersbee.
Pauline Csuba reports on how business ventures across Melbourne’s CBD are helping to build the self-respect of some of Victoria’s homeless.

Melbourne businessmen have set up two projects aimed at clothing and housing some of the city’s homeless.

A sportswear business chief has driven the funding of 65 luxury apartments for homeless people with a disability. And two pop-up shop specialists have created a start-up shop that gives streetwear to the homeless – thanks to a mixture of luck and crowdfunding, they say.

Philip Endersbee, founder and managing director of sportswear firm Wilderness Wear, has worked on youth homeless forums  and says, “If a disability is involved, as a community we have to help.”

Endersbee says his project has secured the support of Rotary’s Melbourne branch and a $12 million donation from major building developer Grocon. Between them they have created 65 purpose-built units at 660 Elizabeth St, in the CBD.

Many of their clients are young people forced on to the streets by a lack of family support, combined with unaffordable rents and insufficient housing stock.

Statistics cited by Homelessness Australia show that 37 per cent of Victoria’s homeless are aged between 19 and 34.

More than half are homeless because of financial difficulties and inadequate or inappropriate housing, according to the same statistics.

The Elizabeth St “six-star” apartments have been home to the homeless since 2010, thanks largely to the efforts of Endersbee – who sits on a large philanthropic trust – and his Rotarian partner, James Pillar.

In nearby Melbourne Central a concept store is clothing the homeless. The HoMie store is named after the American slang term that’s short for “homeboy”, or as Marcus Crook, one of the store’s co-founders, put it, “someone who looks out for others”.

The store donates five free items of new street wear to homeless people chosen by one of several organisations.

Sources of VIP customers are Melbourne City Mission, The Big Issue and Quin House, a residential complex for recovering alcohol and drug addicts.

Crook’s business partner, Nick Pearce, explained that the concept store developed out of their experience running pop-up stores in Federation Square. The traders alerted Pearce and Crook to homeless people’s need for a helping hand.

“Our Facebook page gathered momentum and crowdfunding created an opportunity to make a HoMie base in Melbourne Central …”

Since their permanent store opened in June, HoMie has given away 160 items of clothing at each of five VIP events – 800 items all together.

Pearce and Crook – who met while volunteering on a community project in Vietnam in 2012 – recognise how necessities can engender self-respect in those who’ve lost their dignity.

As Pearce said, “People who are homeless should be able to wear new clothes like you and me.”