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Why StreetSmart still focuses support on smaller grassroots organisations

At StreetSmart, for the past 20 years, we have championed and supported local grassroots organisations providing services to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. This focus came out of the direct experience of our Founder, Adam Robinson, working in smaller front-line community services and seeing how they provided vital support services and strengthened local communities, yet were under-resourced by Governments, while experiencing real barriers to fundraising, including lack of capacity to make formal applications for funding. We know local leaders, volunteers and community groups are best placed to identify what support their communities need, and have solutions and mechanisms in place that work for them and their community. They are the lifeblood of our suburbs, towns and regions and play a critical role in innovating, creating change, and building caring and resilient communities.

COVID Pandemic Reinforced Our Focus On Local Organisations

Recent times through the COVID pandemic and subsequent housing and cost-of-living crisis have  reinforced that when faced with challenges, smaller, local, community-based groups are the glue that holds communities together. ‘Local’ is important due to a strong connection to the community, an established level of trust, and an ability to spot gaps in needs and innovate with agility, to care for the most vulnerable. We also know from decades of natural disasters and recent research that localised community organisations, like neighbourhood and drop-in centres, play an important role as their community networks and knowledge can be leveraged in times of crisis.

These smaller, grassroots services are crucial hubs for initial help-seeking and connectors for further support referrals. They are where people go first, especially those seeking help for the first time. They hold critical local knowledge and leadership, and understand the services and responses required.

‘Night Nurses’ at Youth Projects, who first received small grant support in 2008

Rising Demand and Rising Costs - Organisations Under Stress

The current cost of living and rental crisis are placing people in extreme financial stress, as they struggle to feed their families, keep a roof over their head, or access safe accommodation after losing their home. It is near impossible for vulnerable people to find a rental property in Australia with vacancy rates below 1%, forcing many to seek unsafe shelter in cars, tents, caravan parks, on couches with friends, or in motels. The cost-of-living crisis is also impacting the budgets of small organisations, with rising rents, energy and fuel costs limiting their ability to run services and meet service demand.

Over the past 12 months many smaller organisations have experienced unprecedented, rising service demand, coinciding with falls in funding as Governments wind back COVID-19 responses and tighten their spending, community donations fall and fewer volunteers.

This increasing demand is overwhelming some services and their staff, some reporting 60-70% increases in requests for support, especially food banks and community pantries. Staff shortages and low volunteer numbers continue post COVID-19, with two in five participants (40%) reporting their main service or program was unable to recruit the staff that were needed. In a recent community sector survey, community services reported being at breaking point with 66% of organisations reporting an increase in demand over the past year, while only 3% reported that their main service could always meet this demand.

Another recent survey showed that community organisations, for which their main source of funding was non-government, over half (53%) reported their financial situation as worsening. The report highlighted the concerning flow-on effects this was having for service delivery.

What our community partners are telling us…

“We have seen demand grow over time while our resources (donations and ongoing funding) have fluctuated dramatically. We currently have no ongoing funding to cover the rising operational costs of our food relief; these include higher costs for electricity, and petrol for volunteers, so your support is vital.”

Emerald Community House

“We have noticed a significant decrease in donations over the last twelve months, as everyone in the community has been impacted by the current economic climate, and donations from individuals and businesses have been much lower than in previous years. Being 100% community funded, this has had a significant impact on the resources we are able to provide to our clients.”

Gateway Family Services

“As with a lot of Community organisations, we have been under an enormous amount of pressure over the last couple of years to provide an expanded service to our community with limited resources. This year has been especially difficult for us, with staff shortages, increased demand and dwindling financial support.“ 

Greenhills Neighbourhood House

“…our donations are lower than usual, and we are seeing an increase in the need for food and emergency relief and other support. Each day, we see new faces at our door. Each day, more people are visiting our service hungry, cold and in need of support.

St Mary’s House of Welcome

It’s The Little Things Community, a recent partner first supported in 2023

Empowering Experts on the Ground

We see the role of StreetSmart as a supportive ally for those on the frontline of service delivery to the most vulnerable in our community. Trust, along with collaboration and listening, have been core to our community grant making, targeting smaller services, aimed at supporting people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We are in constant contact with our network of over 1000 leaders of smaller community organisations to understand their challenges. We have had a number of key grant making advisors, including State based grant committees with lived experience representation. Knowing what Governments and other funders won’t fund is also critical to our understanding of the role StreetSmart can play.

Funds raised through our innovative campaigns are distributed through our Community Grants and Material Aid Programs, often privileging locality, where donations are fed back into projects as close to where they are raised as possible. We support these organisations by making funds and material aid available to plug funding gaps, support core programs and enable them to innovate and test new ideas. We also acknowledge the expertise of people with lived experience and seek to support programs and organisations actively including those voices.

We regard staff at these organisations as experts in their communities, and listen to their ideas and needs, and support them to deliver critical services and change. We do not presume to know what they need. Often what they desperately need is un-tied funding that enables them to plug funding gaps, test ideas and respond to changing needs, and that makes complete sense to us. However, securing this type of funding from other sources can be extremely difficult. In fact over our twenty years StreetSmart has regularly seed funded or provided early support for ideas that have gone on to have deep community impact, including, Fareshare, The Big Issue Street Soccer Program, St Kilda Mums, Plate it Forward, Second Bite, and Ready Set, to name a few.

Grant applications demand time and energy that many under-resourced smaller organisations just don’t have. That’s time not going into helping people. So, at smaller organisations application deadlines are missed. StreetSmart endeavors to be responsive to the needs and limitations of the small organisations we support, simplifying the grant application process and reporting, and mentor them through an application process when required. Currently we run an ‘invitation only’ grants process, which means that small organisations do not waste time applying for funds in competition with each other and hundreds of other organisations.

St Kilda Mums, first supported with a small community Grant in 2012

Targeting Vulnerabilities

We know that homelessness is a result of the intersection of a number of vulnerabilities, leading to a crisis. Through our grants and material aid programs we are proactive at directing support to vulnerable cohorts in both regional and metro areas, which are  identified through ABS Census data, as having high levels of homelessness and need, working to prevent people becoming homeless, and supporting people who are experiencing homelessness.

We acknowledge the importance for self-determination, so StreetSmart funds and supports First Nations led organisations and their programs, where possible, to assist people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage in their communities. The latest Census data shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 20% of people experiencing homelessness in Australia, and StreetSmart is committed to reflecting this disproportionate representation in our grant-making and material aid program. Throughout all programs supported with StreetSmart grants in FY 2022-23, 15% of beneficiaries were First Nations people. Our material aid program, SleepSafe, provides bed linen and towels to homelessness and community services across Australia. To date 23% of all sleep kits have been provided to people who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Townsville Aboriginal & Islander Health Service, one of our first SleepSafe recipients in 2019

Our Theory of Change

We support small, grassroots, homelessness organisations so that they can respond to the needs and vulnerabilities of people at risk and experiencing homelessness. We create meaningful and localised opportunities for everyone (the public, small to medium businesses, corporates, philanthropic Trusts and Foundations, the hospitality sector, and schools) to take action by learning, advocating, and donating. These opportunities not only increase community awareness about homelessness but improve the resilience and capacity of vital organisations and their communities to offer essential services to people in need.

Across communities, this leads to reduced public stigma and increased advocacy for change at the individual, community, and business level. It also leads to increased health, wellbeing, financial security and housing outcomes for vulnerable people as their communities can more effectively respond to their members’ vulnerabilities. Ultimately we are working towards building strong local communities in which homelessness, if it does occur, is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

Townsville Aboriginal & Islander Health Service, one of our first SleepSafe recipients in 2019

COVID Pandemic Reinforced Our Focus On Local Organisations

Recent times through the COVID pandemic and subsequent housing and cost-of-living crisis have  reinforced that when faced with challenges, smaller, local, community-based groups are the glue that holds communities together. ‘Local’ is important due to a strong connection to the community, an established level of trust, and an ability to spot gaps in needs and innovate with agility, to care for the most vulnerable. We also know from decades of natural disasters and recent research that localised community organisations, like neighbourhood and drop-in centres, play an important role as their community networks and knowledge can be leveraged in times of crisis.

These smaller, grassroots services are crucial hubs for initial help-seeking and connectors for further support referrals. They are where people go first, especially those seeking help for the first time. They hold critical local knowledge and leadership, and understand the services and responses required.

‘Night Nurses’ at Youth Projects, who first received small grant support in 2008

Rising Demand and Rising Costs - Organisations Under Stress

The current cost of living and rental crisis are placing people in extreme financial stress, as they struggle to feed their families, keep a roof over their head, or access safe accommodation after losing their home. It is near impossible for vulnerable people to find a rental property in Australia with vacancy rates below 1%, forcing many to seek unsafe shelter in cars, tents, caravan parks, on couches with friends, or in motels. The cost-of-living crisis is also impacting the budgets of small organisations, with rising rents, energy and fuel costs limiting their ability to run services and meet service demand.

Over the past 12 months many smaller organisations have experienced unprecedented, rising service demand, coinciding with falls in funding as Governments wind back COVID-19 responses and tighten their spending, community donations fall and fewer volunteers.

This increasing demand is overwhelming some services and their staff, some reporting 60-70% increases in requests for support, especially food banks and community pantries. Staff shortages and low volunteer numbers continue post COVID-19, with two in five participants (40%) reporting their main service or program was unable to recruit the staff that were needed. In a recent community sector survey, community services reported being at breaking point with 66% of organisations reporting an increase in demand over the past year, while only 3% reported that their main service could always meet this demand.

Another recent survey showed that community organisations, for which their main source of funding was non-government, over half (53%) reported their financial situation as worsening. The report highlighted the concerning flow-on effects this was having for service delivery.

What our community partners are telling us…

“We have seen demand grow over time while our resources (donations and ongoing funding) have fluctuated dramatically. We currently have no ongoing funding to cover the rising operational costs of our food relief; these include higher costs for electricity, and petrol for volunteers, so your support is vital.”

Emerald Community House

“We have noticed a significant decrease in donations over the last twelve months, as everyone in the community has been impacted by the current economic climate, and donations from individuals and businesses have been much lower than in previous years. Being 100% community funded, this has had a significant impact on the resources we are able to provide to our clients.”

Gateway Family Services

“As with a lot of Community organisations, we have been under an enormous amount of pressure over the last couple of years to provide an expanded service to our community with limited resources. This year has been especially difficult for us, with staff shortages, increased demand and dwindling financial support.“ 

Greenhills Neighbourhood House

“…our donations are lower than usual, and we are seeing an increase in the need for food and emergency relief and other support. Each day, we see new faces at our door. Each day, more people are visiting our service hungry, cold and in need of support.

St Mary’s House of Welcome

It’s The Little Things Community, a recent partner first supported in 2023

Empowering experts on the ground

We see the role of StreetSmart as a supportive ally for those on the frontline of service delivery to the most vulnerable in our community. Trust, along with collaboration and listening, have been core to our community grant making, targeting smaller services, aimed at supporting people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We are in constant contact with our network of over 1000 leaders of smaller community organisations to understand their challenges. We have had a number of key grant making advisors, including State based grant committees with lived experience representation. Knowing what Governments and other funders won’t fund is also critical to our understanding of the role StreetSmart can play.

Funds raised through our innovative campaigns are distributed through our Community Grants and Material Aid Programs, often privileging locality, where donations are fed back into projects as close to where they are raised as possible. We support these organisations by making funds and material aid available to plug funding gaps, support core programs and enable them to innovate and test new ideas. We also acknowledge the expertise of people with lived experience and seek to support programs and organisations actively including those voices.

We regard staff at these organisations as experts in their communities, and listen to their ideas and needs, and support them to deliver critical services and change. We do not presume to know what they need. Often what they desperately need is un-tied funding that enables them to plug funding gaps, test ideas and respond to changing needs, and that makes complete sense to us. However, securing this type of funding from other sources can be extremely difficult. In fact over our twenty years StreetSmart has regularly seed funded or provided early support for ideas that have gone on to have deep community impact, including, Fareshare, The Big Issue Street Soccer Program, St Kilda Mums, Plate it Forward, Second Bite, and Ready Set, to name a few.

Grant applications demand time and energy that many under-resourced smaller organisations just don’t have. That’s time not going into helping people. So, at smaller organisations application deadlines are missed. StreetSmart endeavors to be responsive to the needs and limitations of the small organisations we support, simplifying the grant application process and reporting, and mentor them through an application process when required. Currently we run an ‘invitation only’ grants process, which means that small organisations do not waste time applying for funds in competition with each other and hundreds of other organisations.

St Kilda Mums, first supported with a small community Grant in 2012

Targeting Vulnerabilities

We know that homelessness is a result of the intersection of a number of vulnerabilities, leading to a crisis. Through our grants and material aid programs we are proactive at directing support to vulnerable cohorts in both regional and metro areas, which are  identified through ABS Census data, as having high levels of homelessness and need, working to prevent people becoming homeless, and supporting people who are experiencing homelessness.

We acknowledge the importance for self-determination, so StreetSmart funds and supports First Nations led organisations and their programs, where possible, to assist people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage in their communities. The latest Census data shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 20% of people experiencing homelessness in Australia, and StreetSmart is committed to reflecting this disproportionate representation in our grant-making and material aid program. Throughout all programs supported with StreetSmart grants in FY 2022-23, 15% of beneficiaries were First Nations people. Our material aid program, SleepSafe, provides bed linen and towels to homelessness and community services across Australia. To date 23% of all sleep kits have been provided to people who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Townsville Aboriginal & Islander Health Service, one of our first SleepSafe recipients in 2019

Our Theory of Change

We support small, grassroots, homelessness organisations so that they can respond to the needs and vulnerabilities of people at risk and experiencing homelessness. We create meaningful and localised opportunities for everyone (the public, small to medium businesses, corporates, philanthropic Trusts and Foundations, the hospitality sector, and schools) to take action by learning, advocating, and donating. These opportunities not only increase community awareness about homelessness but improve the resilience and capacity of vital organisations and their communities to offer essential services to people in need.

Across communities, this leads to reduced public stigma and increased advocacy for change at the individual, community, and business level. It also leads to increased health, wellbeing, financial security and housing outcomes for vulnerable people as their communities can more effectively respond to their members’ vulnerabilities. Ultimately we are working towards building strong local communities in which homelessness, if it does occur, is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

Timeline

StreetSmart through the years

Founded by Adam Robinson

StreetSmart established to raise funds for smaller frontline homeless services

19 SEPT

DineSmart Launches

First DineSmart launched in Melbourne with 21 restaurant partners

Board Established

Adam Robinson, Christopher Thorn and John Dixon

First Grants Distributed

Recipients | One Umbrella (now FareShare), Stopover Youth Refuge (Melbourne City Mission), Family Access Network, One Family Australia, Mathew Talbot Soup Van

Grants Committee Established

Deb Tsorbaris, Phil Lynch, Hilary Bolton and Paul Ronalds.

First 100k Raised

In just under 3 years of operation we had raised and distributed over $100,000!

Sydney Launch

DineSmart hits NSW November 2006

First All-Stars Dinner

What is now known as the DineSmart Dinner, this was the first time leading restaurateurs and budding foodies came together to raise funds.

Brisbane Launch

DineSmart hits QLD November 2008

First $1,000,000 Raised and Distributed

After 7 rounds of DineSmart grants and crowdfunding a bushfire response, StreetSmart had distributed over $1 million in funding.

CafeSmart Launches

CafeSmart is StreetSmart’s annual coffee industry led event that unites hundreds of roasters, cafes and coffee lovers around the country to fundraise for their local grassroots homeless charities.

First 500 Grants Distributed

The November round of community grants in 2012 brought us to a little over 500 grants made since inception!

Distributed Over $500,000 in One Year (First Time)

2014 was our first year of operation in which we were raising and distributing over half a million dollars worth of funding.

StreetSmart Becomes a Public Benevolent Institution

A PBI is a type of charitable institution which is organised, conducted or promoted for the relief of poverty, sickness, destitution, helplessness, suffering, misfortune, disability or distress.

1ooo Venues

In 2015 the tally of hospitality venues that support DineSmart and CafeSmart ticked over 1000.

CafeSmart Raises over $1,000,000

After the 8th CafeSmart campaign, the total raised hit $1,016,964.

SleepSafe Launches

Through collaboration with Sheridan Australia we launch our material aid program consisting of Sleep Kits.

Plate it forward with SmartMeals

SmartMeals Launches

In response to COVID-19 and the effects of lockdown, StreetSmart launched it’s SmartMeals Initiative to battle food insecurity and provide nutritious meals.

2 people from Hope Street Youth and Family Services holding a bucket of material aid

Making-a-Home Launches

Providing a safe and secure place to call home is a core part of what we do at StreetSmart and so the Making-A-Home initiative was created.

$10,000,000 Raised and Distributed

Our Winter Appeal in 2022 allowed us to make a round of grants that pushed the tally just over $10 million distributed

CafeSmart Raises over $1.8m

After the 12th CafeSmart campaign, the total raised trickled over the $1,800,000 mark.

50,000 Sleep Kits Distributed

The latest round of SleepSafe brought our total kits distributed nationally to just over 50,000

SleepSafe Network Increases

Our SleepSafe network grew to include over 500 community partners

Schools For Change Launches

Schools for Change is our unique program offering schools the opportunity to raise vital funds to tackle homelessness and engage in wider learning about homelessness and social change.

SmartMeals hits 300k

Our food relief initiative officially delivered its 300,000th SmartMeal.

100,000 Sleep Kits Distributed

The latest round of SleepSafe brought our total kits distributed nationally to just over 100,000

Timeline

StreetSmart through the years

Founded by Adam Robinson

StreetSmart established to raise funds for smaller frontline homeless services

19 SEPT

DineSmart Launches

First DineSmart launched in Melbourne with 21 restaurant partners

Board Established

Adam Robinson, Christopher Thorn and John Dixon

First Grants Distributed

Recipients | One Umbrella (now FareShare), Stopover Youth Refuge (Melbourne City Mission), Family Access Network, One Family Australia, Mathew Talbot Soup Van

Grants Committee Established

Deb Tsorbaris, Phil Lynch, Hilary Bolton and Paul Ronalds.

First 100k Raised

In just under 3 years of operation we had raised and distributed over $100,000!

Sydney Launch

DineSmart hits NSW November 2006

First All-Stars Dinner

What is now known as the DineSmart Dinner, this was the first time leading restaurateurs and budding foodies came together to raise funds.

Brisbane Launch

DineSmart hits QLD November 2008

Banksia Gardens-Food-Relief-Service

First $1,000,000 Raised and Distributed

After 7 rounds of DineSmart grants and crowdfunding a bushfire response, StreetSmart had distributed over $1 million in funding.

CafeSmart Launches

CafeSmart is StreetSmart’s annual coffee industry led event that unites hundreds of roasters, cafes and coffee lovers around the country to fundraise for their local grassroots homeless charities.

First 500 Grants Distributed

The November round of community grants in 2012 brought us to a little over 500 grants made since inception!

Distributed Over $500,000 in One Year (First Time)

2014 was our first year of operation in which we were raising and distributing over half a million dollars worth of funding.

StreetSmart Becomes a Public Benevolent Institution

A PBI is a type of charitable institution which is organised, conducted or promoted for the relief of poverty, sickness, destitution, helplessness, suffering, misfortune, disability or distress.

1ooo Venues

In 2015 the tally of hospitality venues that support DineSmart and CafeSmart ticked over 1000.

CafeSmart Raises over $1,000,000

After the 8th CafeSmart campaign, the total raised hit $1,016,964.

SleepSafe Launches

Through collaboration with Sheridan Australia we launch our material aid program consisting of Sleep Kits.

Plate it forward with SmartMeals

SmartMeals Launches

In response to COVID-19 and the effects of lockdown, StreetSmart launched it’s SmartMeals Initiative to battle food insecurity and provide nutritious meals.

Making-a-Home Launches

Providing a safe and secure place to call home is a core part of what we do at StreetSmart and so the Making-A-Home initiative was created.

$10,000,000 Raised and Distributed

Our Winter Appeal in 2022 allowed us to make a round of grants that pushed the tally just over $10 million distributed

CafeSmart Raises over $1.8m

After the 12th CafeSmart campaign, the total raised trickled over the $1,800,000 mark.

50,000 Sleep Kits Distributed

The latest round of SleepSafe brought our total kits distributed nationally to just over 50,000

SleepSafe Network Increases

Our SleepSafe network grew to include over 500 community partners

Schools For Change Launches

Schools for Change is our unique program offering schools the opportunity to raise vital funds to tackle homelessness and engage in wider learning about homelessness and social change.

SmartMeals hits 300k

Our food relief initiative officially delivered its 300,000th SmartMeal.

100,000 Sleep Kits Distributed

The latest round of SleepSafe brought our total kits distributed nationally to just over 100,000

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