All photos by Jacqueline Jane van Grootel unless stated otherwise.
The issue of homelessness is one that’s bubbled to the top of Perth’s public conversation over the past few years – to the point where it can no longer be ignored. Thankfully there are fantastic local organisations like Short Back & Sidewalks making a meaningful contribution to those in need.
As you’ll find out below, the idea was hatched back in 2015 when founder Craig Hollywood (pictured, below) pitched the idea of offering free haircuts for the homeless to the team at Weston’s Barbershop. From there it’s grown into a national initiative that’s gone from strength to strength over the past few years.
They’re currently on the hunt for more volunteers (both hairdressers and in general), so we figured now was a great time to get in touch and learn a little more. Read on below and if you are interested in getting involved with the team at Short Back & Sidewalks, head to their WEBSITE.
To begin, can you give us a little back story into how the idea for SBSW was initially hatched?
I founded Short Back & Sidewalks [SBSW] in March 2015 having spent years volunteering around Perth. The idea stemmed from the aim to create a stronger sense of community by providing a haircut and some positive connection for members of the community experiencing homelessness or at risk, free of charge and free of judgment.
I’ve always felt Perth to be a DIY kind of city, which is maybe to do with how geographically remote the place is, or that we feel to be the underdogs who’ll stick together just that little bit more than other cities around Australia. Whether it’s music, art, food, fashion and or simply just helping a mate out, the ability has always been there to just go out and do it, or just to start something up yourself.
SBSW started off by me walking into Weston’s Barbershop on William Street and sitting down with the crew. At the time Reggie Matthews aka Taku was a co-owner of the store. I remember the team looking at my idea and responding in an instant with a ‘Yep, we’re in, when do we start?’ which is something I’ll always respect that barber shop for.
Since the days of heading to car parks in Northbridge with a couple of barbers, Short Back & Sidewalks is now a registered Not-For-Profit operating in WA, NSW, VIC and the NT. We currently have around 200 volunteers on our books, have over the years given around 4500 free cuts and regularly operate alongside some of Australia’s largest service providers.
Alongside assisting members of the community experiencing homelessness SBSW offers services to women with lived experience of domestic violence, youth at risk, old aged pensioners and also to Indigenous communities across Australia who due to their remote location, find it hard to access hairdressers.
In terms of helping members of the community experiencing homelessness, haircuts don’t immediately spring to mind, but it’s obviously proven a great – and incredibly helpful – enterprise, in the 5+ years since you started it what have been some of the achievements you’re most proud of?
The work that hairdressers and barbers are doing each day across the globe, by providing a window of time for people to sit back, relax, chat, to have another person simply just listen, is a positive experience and something that can be empowering for a person regardless of circumstance. As someone who doesn’t cut hair for a living I feel people working in this space don’t receive enough credit for having such an effect on people.
The impact this positive connection has on clients of SBSW is huge, and even just talking about it I can feel the electricity created regularly at our cutting events across Australia. For me the best achievements are when our team receive positive feedback from the service providers in spaces that we operate, in relation to the impact our volunteers have made to a person’s day.
Most recently we received feedback from a service provider in Perth who informed me that our team had communicated with a customer by using ‘Sir’, which was the first time they’d been referred to with the gender pronoun they identified with since transitioning, and felt this was a huge milestone in their journey.
Homelessness in Perth has been a prominent issue for a long time now, and since you began in 2015 to now you’ve basically been at the ground floor. For people ignorant to the issue can you give us some idea of what’s going on and why?
Homelessness is a tremendously complex issue not only in Perth but across Australia and the globe which is created by various factors. Homelessness is often a result of a number of complex issues which can include:
• Domestic and family violence
• Severe and persistent mental illness and psychological distress
• Intergenerational poverty
• Long term unemployment
Ending and preventing homelessness is not as simple as getting people jobs or building houses. There are a number of investments and commitments required. These can include:
• Increase of funding for homelessness prevention and early intervention programs with proven records of success
• Renewal of funding for innovative homelessness services through The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH)
The person in need you see in passing is someone’s Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Auntie, Uncle, Grandfather, Grandmother. Just because a person is in any type of situation doesn’t mean they’re not loved, or that they’re not capable giving love, or that they should be treated with any type of disrespect.
I think a lot of people don’t consider these things when thinking about a person in need. Which is sad considering these people are some of societies most vulnerable and who need the most support.
Last year you went on a trip to the NT and visited the Mutitjulu Community, what was the reason for the visit and what were some takeaways from it?
Mutitjulu is a closed Aboriginal community located at the base of Uluru, within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, of which the Anangu people of Mutitjulu are the Traditional Owners and joint managers, and it was an honour to have been invited there.
Having spent time at Mutitjulu and meeting some amazing people who are working together, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, my key takeways were that reconciliation won’t arrive in a single moment or place in time. It’s going to take lots of small, consistent steps, that no matter where you’re from or your background, if you have a positive attitude, it’s something you’ll go a long way to helping achieve.
Photo: Reggie Uluru by Marcus Crook.
You went with the guys from HoMie – how did that collaboration come about?
Over the years I’d been aware of the work HoMie had been doing for the community in Melbourne since 2015, and reached out to HoMie’s Co-Founder Marcus Crook, who was immediately keen for HoMie to be involved. The decision was made to collaborate as part of the trip, and from this the SBSW x HoMie School Holiday Program at Mutitjulu was born.
I feel that HoMie Street Store are a truly like-minded organisation, who do great things for the community. They use 100% of the profits made from their clothing to go back towards achieving their mission, which is to support young people affected by homelessness or hardship and equip them with the skills, confidence and experiences to be more work-ready and better prepared for their future.
Recently you met with WA Premier Mark McGowan – what were some takeaways from the meeting?
It was great to be acknowledged by the Premier Of Western Australia never mind being invited to go and spend the afternoon with him and the SBSW crew at Parliament House to share our story. The Premier was interested in the impact SBSW is making across not only WA but Australia too, and commented about it being a truly unique way of assisting the community that he believes it has loads of potential.
It was a privilege to sit down and chat with him about how SBSW started, the obstacles faced, how we’ve tackled them, and where we are now at in 2020, especially with regards to now actively seeking larger grant funding, corporate and or government sponsorship.
Photo courtesy of WA Labor Party
With everything going on in the world at the moment, does it get difficult sometimes to project your message to a wider audience – and how do you overcome those kinds of problems?
Sharing the message of what SBSW does is something we’re always super appreciative of being given the chance to do. Turning a negative situation into a positive is something I believe the entire world has gained a vast amount of experience in over the past 12 months, which is what we’ve done at SBSW.
During the downtime SBSW experienced due to COVID19 the team put our heads down to strengthen our methods of operation. We achieved this by partnering with Orange Sky Laundry in online volunteer management platform they’ve developed called Volaby, which is something that’s revolutionised the way SBSW works, and how it will continue to work as we move forward. By using the Volaby software SBSW can now easily manage and onboard volunteers, set up events that all team members can register for, to be more accountable as a Not-for-profit, to collect impact data from our events, communicate with all team members in more effective way (as opposed to using 20 different modes of contact whether it was through Facebook or What’s App groups, Slack, email, Instagram, text messages and the list goes on).
The time we’ve had to implement this has provided SBSW with a more streamlined operational structure, which will be vital as the charity expands across Australia and beyond.
Volunteers obviously make or break organisations like SBSW and you’re on the hunt for some new people – who and what kind of people are you looking for?
If you’re reading this and you’re a barber or hairdresser in Perth with a passion for giving back and keen to use your skills to assist members of the community in need, you can register here to volunteer with SBSW through the volunteer link on our website. If you’re not able to cut hair, but you still want to use the skills you have to give back, the organisation is super collaborative so please get in touch and we can chat about how you can be involved and be part of the change.
Outside of volunteering, how can people help the SBSW cause, and homelessness in Perth overall?
The costs of running a Not-for-profit always add up, so if you’re lucky enough to have any spare dollars currently lying around, and want to support an organisation where every donation goes directly towards supporting the community in need, you can donate here via our website.
There are lots of different organisations operating in Perth that would be over the moon with some more assistance. Here’s a list of some of them that come to mind:
• Befriend – https://befriend.org.au/
• Perth Homeless Support Group – https://www.perthhomeless.org.au/
• On My Feet – http://www.onmyfeet.org.au/
• Foodbank WA – https://www.foodbank.org.au/WA/food-assistance/?state=wa
• Perth Inner City Youth Services (PICYS) – https://picys.org.au/
• Centre For Asylum Seekers – https://www.carad.org.au/
• Centre For Stories – https://centreforstories.com/
With 2020 rapidly coming to a close, what’s on the cards for SBSW in 2021 and beyond?
Alongside expanding our services to other capital cities across Australia SBSW is now focused on securing funding as we move towards 2021, whether that be from a corporate or government entity. We’re currently in talks with a few large like-minded organisations across Australia that will provide an opportunity to partner and ultimately assist more people in need as we move forward, so watch this space.
If you feel you or your company would like to support SBSW as we move forward and be a part of the change then please get in touch – craig[at]shortbackandsidewalks.com.