On My Feet: A unique approach to homelessness
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On My Feet: A unique approach to homelessness

Stories/360 , Issues/Homelessness , Issues/Employment
Perth WA, Australia
13th Sep 2018
On My Feet: A unique approach to homelessness
On My Feet provides a hand up, not a hand out, by upskilling the people it seeks to support.

On My Feet is a volunteer-managed organisation that aims to provide individuals experiencing homelessness with a path towards self-sufficiency. The group arranges regular running, walking and general exercise sessions to develop discipline, improve self-esteem and create a sense of achievement. On My Feet then rewards regular attendees who achieve exercise-related goals with opportunities for further assistance such as employment opportunities, training and development, and mental health assistance.

The program reflects the state of homelessness in Australia, as it addresses the wide variations in 'homelessness'. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 116427 people were counted as being homeless on census night in 2016. The ABS defines an individual as homeless if their "current living arrangement is in a dwelling that is inadequate, has a short, non-extendable or non-existent tenure, does not provide control or access to space for social relations." However, there are varied circumstances in which individuals may qualify as homeless beyond simply not having a physical roof over their head. A long-term living situation requires security, stability, privacy, safety and the ability to control ones living space.

On My Feet displays a unique approach to individuals in transitional homelessness, or at risk of homelessness by providing pathways towards improved employability and skill development. The program targets homeless and long term unemployment in men and women over the age of 18 by requiring consistent attendance from those in the program. On My Feet fosters an environment in which individuals can achieve their goals by displaying commitment. From a wider social perspective, the program assists in breaking the cycle of welfare dependency by upskilling the individuals it seeks to support.

On My Feet is financially supported by a social enterprise counterpart, the On My Feet Business School. The school is based in Perth, and is being run by Matthew Thomson who has been organising the Business School since July 2017. The program is active in universities across WA, Victoria, NSW and Queensland in the second semester of each year.

The Business School enrols university students in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria to sell at least 100 pairs of socks through their micro-business. Over 12 weeks, students work with industry professionals who are skilled in innovation, entrepreneurship and marketing, providing both parties with highly valued experience.

All revenue raised from the program is contributed to the On My Feet program, and primarily funds the uniforms and apparel for each runner. The running apparel is an integral component of developing a sense of belonging to the group, which in turn promotes accountability and commitment. The result is that individuals do not feel they are running as a homeless person, but as a person. The clothing also represents different achievements the runners have accomplished, with a different badge for each milestone.

Once students are accepted into the program and allocated into groups, an initial event is held for professionals to discuss business plans with students. The program encourages partnerships with local business and for the students to be as creative and innovative as possible. A Strategy Round Table evening is then held in the fourth week of the program, in which students present a business plan to people in the community which they have nine weeks to implement. Upon completion, teams will be awarded in each state for achievements such as highest revenue, most socks sold, best business strategy and for investing the most effort.

When discussing the program with its manager, Matthew Thomson, he emphasised the two key benefits of the relationships that are formed through the program. He suggested that students become visible to professionals in the industry, and professionals enjoy sharing their expertise and experience with the students. Additionally, the final proceeds fund the invaluable support for disadvantaged individuals.

Upon graduation, employers look favourably upon practical business experience, volunteering and contributions to the community. The On My Feet Business School provides students with all three of these in a single semester, while assisting those in transitional homelessness to get back on track.

By treating homeless individuals as committed, strong and capable, On My Feet ultimately assists with the transition back to self-sufficiency. The addition of a social enterprise primarily run by small groups of students provides a business structure that expands the value of the organisation to the community.

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