July 31, 2013

2 scared faces amongst 200 smiles

It’s a cold, wintry Monday in Melbourne and it’s time to shut down, rug up and head home. So why is there such a large chuffed-looking crowd standing expectantly under the clock at Melbourne Central?

Commuters, rushing to the station, skid to a halt to ask what’s going on. Some try to slip behind the security barriers, hoping for a closer look at the action. Noisy and eclectic, a crowd of 200 are packing a roped-off space one floor below the famous clock at Melbourne Central. It’s a totally united crowd. They are there to celebrate a turning point, a milestone, in an enterprise they care about and have helped create. STREAT.

Surprisingly united really, considering it’s a bunch of architects and activists, barristers and baristas, corporates and comrades, foodies and fashionistas, publishers and politicians, students and scientists and such. Doing something good, without expecting anything in return, seems to be the uniting factor. But they are going to get coffee and cake – delicious STREAT coffee and cake.

Spicing up this cookbook and café launch soiree is the Right Honourable Robert Doyle, a right honourable foodie and Lord Mayor of Melbourne. Different flavours are added by Rebecca Scott, the CEO of STREAT, and two slightly scared young people – Pnina and Aaron. These shy graduates of the STREAT program have bravely switched their trays of canapés for a microphone.

The Lord Mayor’s stage craft is confident and comedic, as he demonstrates by spontaneously singing the start of his speech to the tune of Waltzing Matilda, which had just chimed out of the giant fob-watch clock suspended above. Clearly public speaking is welcomed for some, but for Pnina and Aaron it is a colossal feat to front 200 strangers and speak about their personal challenges.

Scott steers the conversation to “life before STREAT”. Pnina touches on how she’d been bullied in previous café jobs and lost all confidence. Being estranged from her family in Sydney and then moving to Melbourne was also extremely distressing: ‘‘I knew no-one, but I wanted my independence, so I just did it and never looked back’’. The STREAT training program and its staff helped Pnina to regain confidence and learn new skills. She is grateful now to be able to turn to cooking as a way of relaxing. Pnina is determined to pursue a career in hospitality.

It’s over to Aaron now, and Scott canvases his experience before the program. Aaron’s upbringing was very difficult and led to homelessness and drug use at a young age and impacted his ability to finish school and find safe places to live. Aaron dropped out of STREAT’s class in 2011, but came back and graduated with flying colours in 2012. The youth workers at STREAT know only too well how challenging the six-month program can be and are now offering shorter term courses. Just turning up on time, five days in a row, is a big achievement for a young person.

Aaron tells the crowd he has accomplished more than he ever thought possible and after graduating, with STREAT’s assistance, he landed his first job in hospitality. Recently, entirely on his own initiative, he applied online for a position in a hotel, “aced” the interview and secured the job – an amazing achievement. Now he is looking for a two-year chef’s apprenticeship at a well-known Melbourne restaurant. There is a quote from Aaron in the cookbook – ‘‘Just because you’ve had a hard life doesn’t mean you have no future – the sky is the limit!” The quote precedes Aaron’s recipe for Bread and Butter Pudding – in memory of his beloved Nan. Nan would be proud.

There are 4,000 more Pninas and Aarons living without homes in Melbourne and another 100,000 homeless people trying to survive in Australia. Many sleep in cars and caravans, on couches and streets, under bridges – and worse. Too many are women and children. To many of us, they are invisible. To STREAT they are amazing young people, each and every one.

In three years STREAT has helped 75 of these wonderful young people, with most going on to jobs or further education. They look forward to helping a whole lot more. They are a merry band of seriously forward thinkers.

The 200-strong smiling throng leaves chuffed. Chuffed because each played an active part in the proliferation of STREAT’s Cookbook and Pozible campaigns, which led to the raising of $115,000 and the rebuilding of the café at Melbourne Central. Their real joy is knowing many more young homeless people will have the chance to take some vital steps towards recovering their lives.

STREAT’s activities have not gone unnoticed outside of Melbourne, with enquiries about starting operations and partnerships coming from many other Australian cities and also from London and Singapore. CEO Scott says a very polite but unequivocal “No, thank you” to these enquiries. That’s because STREAT’s focus is to become fully sustainable in Melbourne first – by 2016.

For more information about STREAT, go to, or connect via @STREATmelbourne or

Image courtesy of Nathan Stolz


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