Richard is a painter. In front of the State Library of Victoria he strokes watercolour paint onto a stretched white canvas. He paints because it makes him feel good. His paintings of lonely figures are tragic, satirical and beautiful. I have walked past Richard and seen his paintings and thought of Banksy. But I have not given much thought to the artist, until I watched the video below.
In this short film, we are invited inside to a day of Richard’s life on the streets. He wakes up in a shop front on Collins Street, rolls his sleeping bag into his backpack before rushing into the toilets at Flinders Street Library to try and neaten himself up. He spends the rest of the day painting and selling them.
“Since the day I ended up on the street I’ve been trying to get off the street,” Richard says, “[Painting] is meditative and it’s mine and I love doing it.”
This is one of the many stories the Homeless of Melbourne (HOM) organisation have captured on their Facebook page.
See the person, not the stereotype
Through photographs and anecdotes akin to and inspired by the massive Humans of New York, HOM have created a thriving social awareness network with nearly 30,000 people following the movement to combat homeless stereotypes.
But it started off with simple curiosity and a guy meandering the streets on his lunch break. Photographer Marcus Crook started chatting to people living on the streets looking for insight and trying to understand their circumstances. He eventually started uploading photos and stories of these conversations to a blog.
The lunch time experience was a surprising one for Marcus, since most of the people he met had simply fallen through the crack’s in society’s safety nets. Add two more mates, Nick Pearce and Robbie Gillies, a clothing store, and the small blog expanded into a registered charity and prominent voice for homeless people with each story reaching 250,000 people online every month.
A platform for the homeless to be heard
Collecting HOM stories is no easy feat, the team sit down with people living on the street and ask whether they’d like to tell their story to be shared with thousands online. Not all homeless people want to be broadcasted online, but for those who do, they share the benefit for the entire community to smash stereotypes.
Robbie says: “[The stories] remind people that we’re all humans, and that just because someone is living without a roof doesn’t deprive them of their humanity or individuality or worth. “
HOM connects interviewees with services they may need. Although they are not able to give homeless people a permanent roof above their heads, they do give them a platform to be heard and that is an incredibly powerful thing. Check out these comments alone:
Yeah, but what’s so different about this charity?
This organisation has been built for social media. This form of activism is more geared towards millennials. Remember how we are gatewatchers and we get to choose what news we take on and what stories we explore to expand our world? When these powerful stories pop up on our newsfeed, we engage with them and it reminds us to give a fuck.
HOM has expanded into their HOMie clothing range (with the clever tagline, “Would you like to donate to charity but rather go shopping?”) donating one piece of clothing for every item you buy. HOMie was successfully crowdfunded last year receiving $14,777 in donations and backed by sponsorships with Stussy, Snowgum and Melbourne Central Shopping Centre making their social enterprise dreams come true.
You’ve got the power!
As well as giving a voice to people on the street, HOM is a reminder of how you, YES YOU have the power to make change. While some may say that sharing or liking a page is a form of slacktivism, we at The Vocal wholeheartedly disagree with that idea.
HOM encourages its followers to donate to a service or charity that helps the entire community. Questions like, “How can I help?” are frequently asked on Facebook and are responded by the team with an impressive list of charities people can donate to (as well as their own) or volunteer at.
Robbie acknowledges the connective power of social media for making HOM possible,
“Everything that we have today has come from social media. The team are young students mainly, with no prior professional networks or money or resources or even specialised knowledge – everything has been materialised from community support, and the only means of attracting that support is through social media really!”
So social media = power people. Use it wisely. Click, share, follow, comment, buy a homeless person dinner, buy a HoMie hoodie.
For me, I might just have the courage to say hello to Richard next time I see him on Swanston St and ask him how his painting is going. I wonder if he is a fan of Banksy.
First published on The Vocal