It's the kind of news Brett could have used in his stints on the streets.
Personal stories of others experiencing homelessness. Where to find showers and food. Tips on services and how to navigate nightmarish bureaucracies like Centrelink without a drivers licence or fixed address.
Today, Brett – who preferred to just use his first name – is part of the small team tasked with pouring its collective knowledge about such matters into one of Australia's newest and unique publications.
Brett with the new zine produced by, and for, people experiencing homelessness. Credit:Luis Ascui
Need to Know, which has just published its second edition, is produced by, and for, Victorians experiencing homelessness and comes at a time when health information has never been so important.
"It's what people out there want and need, and it's coming from people in the same situation as they are," Brett said. "Instead of someone coming out of university, [we] have that actual street experience, drug experience, jail experience."
The editorial committee of eight come up with ideas and work with Cohealth support staff to get the words onto the page. Need to Know is then printed into a fold-out A5-size zine and distributed at churches, services or anywhere people sleeping rough were likely to go, Brett said.
"Everyone gets treated the same and gets to talk," he said of the editorial decision making. "I've never done anything like it. This is the big chance of my whole life. I'm 50 years old and I've never had a chance before."
Fortified by his handling of the responsibility, Brett, who has been in and out of homelessness since the age of 13 and is currently in transitional housing, plans to begin mental health and drug and alcohol studies at TAFE next year – pandemic pending.
The zine is the initiative of Cohealth and kickstarted with a grant from the City of Melbourne.
Cohealth homelessness outreach manager James Duffy said the team was now looking for about $40,000 in funding, from any source, to keep Need to Know afloat for the next year.
In a separate program, the not-for-profit has also distributed about 100 mobile phones and tablets as a means to share information and engage with clients during the pandemic.
Cohealth has paid for the first six months of the plans and mobile data, which works out at about $200-250 per person, and they have chosen models offering the greatest battery life.
It means people can get alerts about changing health information or directly access health, legal or addiction support, Mr Duffy said. Some clients have also been using their devices for fun activities like virtual tours of the zoo.
"We've had to really pull back on a lot of the face-to-face contact and treatment … but we're also being creative about how we engage with the community," Mr Duffy said.
Brett said the phones were invaluable for people with little other access to information.
“It's unbelievably difficult," he said. "There's no TV – that's the first thing you do in the morning to see how many passed on how many are infected. You can't easily find information about things like face masks or where to get them from. That's why we need services like this."
Homelessness Week begins today with the theme Everybody Needs a Home.
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