Handbook for grassroots organisations helping people experiencing homelessness

Homelessness Community-based social services Community service organisations Social inclusion Melbourne

Since early 2016, there has been a significant increase in the number of people sleeping rough within parks, on streets and in other locations across the municipality of Melbourne. Response to this situation has been significant from government and specialist homelessness agencies and business. There has also been a rapid increase in the number of informal, grassroots organisations providing mobile support services to people sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness and poverty.

This involves the provision of meals, clothing and bedding and haircuts, along with larger operations offering shower and laundry facilities. These grassroots organisations operate with enormous goodwill, volunteer their time and provide invaluable social inclusion and support for people who can be very socially isolated.

Grassroots organisations work in the public realm, often after hours, when much of the homelessness service system is not operational. This work is undertaken in a dynamic and fluid environment and presents some distinct challenges for operators, clients and other city users.

In 2017, City of Melbourne undertook research to better understand the grassroots organisations operating within the municipality and how it could work with them more effectively to ensure public amenity and deliver integrated pathways out of homelessness. The research project involved 63 interviews with people who operate and volunteer with these organisations, those who donate and those who consume their services.

The grassroots organisations work within Melbourne’s central city, including at Queen Victoria Market, Batman Park, Enterprise Park, Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross Station. Operators reported working with anywhere between 20 to 450 people per evening, responding to a gap in service provision, particularly prevalent during evenings and weekends.

While organisations operating within central Melbourne generally responded to a number of basic human needs such as providing food and clothing, most were motivated by principles of social inclusion, and emphasise the value of the relationships they develop with the people that use their services. They reported a range of motivations, including social justice, empowerment of marginalized people, and religious faith.

The research found that stakeholders wanted the City of Melbourne to create a reference guide or handbook to help support the grassroots organisations in delivering their services.

This Handbook is a framework for grassroots organisations to implement best practice approaches. It includes information on standards, mandatory reporting, emergency and risk management planning and referral pathways to homelessness support agencies. Policy and procedure advice, templates and links to online resources and training courses for staff and volunteers are also included.

The Handbook is part of a three-year Council plan initiative to implement an integrated coordination approach with grassroots operators to amplify their impact and reduce duplication of services. The Handbook was co-designed with grassroots organisations and homelessness agencies.

This is a voluntary resource for grassroots organisations, to help you provide the best outcomes and service delivery possible, for your clients, volunteers and other grassroots groups. It is a live document and will be reviewed and updated regularly. We hope it makes it easier for you to navigate the requirements of running your programs and meeting legal requirements. It includes content on working with clients, volunteers, other grassroots groups and the broader Melbourne community. Case studies will be added in the future.

The Handbook includes the topics, tools and information grassroots operators told us are most important to know. It is not an operational manual or an exhaustive list. Your organisation can decide to what extent you use these tools. If you are small or your activities limited you may want to keep it simple; larger organisations or those with more volunteers and mobile services may need to implement more training, systems and procedures.

The Handbook was created with a Consultative Group of grassroot organisations and people with a lived experience of homelessness. The Group came up with three key principles of service delivery:

  1. Dignity and respect
  2. Health and wellbeing
  3. A safe and welcoming environment.

Further resources for grassroots organisations helping people experiencing homelessness is also available for download.

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