When Suzanne Hopman witnessed a young family experiencing homelessness, she was determined to address the issue in Australia one person at a time. Her not-for-profit organisation Dignity aims to do just that by helping people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness – and has gone on to be crowned Telstra’s Business of the Year 2019.
People often ask if we are a business or a charity. The answer is that we are both. In order to be the most efficient, stable, transparent charity that we can be, we need to run as an incredible business. We do not make a profit – but every dollar saved is a dollar we can spend helping someone, and every dollar wasted is a dollar we can’t use. It’s an incredible responsibility.
I’ll never forget that moment when I knew things had to change.
I was visiting a mother, and her little baby and five-year-old daughter Sophie, who were experiencing homelessness. They had just checked into a really dingy motel – it was like something out of a horror movie. There was a visible layer of grime on the floor and I was taking small breaths so I didn’t breathe in the smell of the room.
While I was talking to the mum, Sophie was just on the corner of the bed so quietly – no tears, but a look in her eyes of pure terror that I will never forget. They had nothing to eat, no nappies, no clean clothes and no idea what to do next.
Restoring dignity is a critical step in empowering people experiencing homelessness.
At Dignity, we aim to empower people to end their homelessness within 14 days. That is 14 days from the first day of homelessness to stable accommodation. Last month, we averaged less than eight days. At Dignity, our properties are beautiful, we offer delicious homecooked meals made by incredible volunteers, and have a team offering brand new clothes and well-trained support workers.
I wish that Dignity had been there for Sophie. In less than 4 years, we’ve journeyed alongside more than 50,000 people and ended their homelessness.
Homelessness does not discriminate, it can happen to anyone.
Usually, a few things have just gone terribly wrong until life has spiralled out of control. It can creep up on those who’ve always had a place to call home, and never contemplated life would be any different.
No two stories are ever the same, but one thing they often have in common is a level of trauma; trauma from whatever has caused the homelessness, and trauma from the homelessness itself.
A diverse team with one mission.
We don’t have an office.
Instead, our team works remotely to reduce our overheads and 97 per cent of every dollar we are donated goes directly to supporting people who are homeless. But this is not why we’re successful in achieving our goals. The key lies in our complete and unwavering focus on our mission to support people experiencing homelessness.
We believe we can end homelessness in Australia, and our ultimate aim is to do just that. We can’t get this result by providing aid or just helping people who are homeless; instead, we need to empower people who are experiencing homelessness, or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
This award from Telstra is in celebration of all who have ended their homelessness and who got into stable housing – you have inspired us with your stories of how you overcame the adversity, endured humiliation, risen above embarrassment and shame.
It’s your courage and strength that is to be admired – this is for you.