Can one cup of coffee – or one flakey, buttery, golden croissant – make a real difference to someone’s life? No, we’re not talking about the sigh of relief many of us breathe when we get our hands on our daily caffeine hit every morning. We’re talking about making a real difference – albeit a small one – to someone else’s life.
STREAT – made up of four cafes, a bakery, a catering business, a boutique coffee roastery and even a therapy dog called Magic – is a Melbourne-based social enterprise offering training and support to disadvantaged young people.
“We make thousands of coffees and amazing meals every week but all of them are there to serve the purpose of helping young people meet their potential,” says STREAT’s CEO and founder, Rebecca Scott. “The beating heart of STREAT is essentially the support and training of young people who really need a hand.”
Since it began almost 10 years ago, more than 1100 young people have gone through STREAT’s training programs, which include the Main Course (a six-month intensive program), Entrée (eight weeks’ work experience) and Tasters (day classes). A fourth program, STREATs Ahead, provides six months of support to graduates after they leave STREAT.
Last year, 365 young people took part in STREAT courses. Many of them had been living on the streets, or dealing with trauma, poverty and social isolation for a range of reasons.
Youth homelessness is a growing issue in Australia. Some are sleeping rough, others couch surfing or living in severely crowded temporary arrangements.
STREATS’s aim is to give disadvantaged youths (trainees are between 16 and 25) a supported pathway to avoiding or escaping homelessness, or getting their lives back on track. It really is helping one coffee, croissant, meal or crusty loaf of bread at a time.
"STREAT has given me a sense of direction that I haven't felt in years. Even just a year ago everything was chaotic - now I am getting on track. I am finally in stable accommodation, I am studying and have got motivation to do things again. STREAT has been an amazing experience for me," says one STREAT graduate*.
As well as counselling, support and training programs – trainees rotate through all of the businesses, to gain experience in a wide range of skills – STREAT tries to deliver something else, too: joy.
“One of the things that is very hard for the young people we have in the program is that very often they’ve been excluded and not just from workplaces but also from social activities,” says Scott.
“Sometimes it might be … that they don’t have the means to be able to go out and do things that other young people do, from a financial perspective. Other times it’s for personal reasons, for example, young people who have anxiety disorders where getting out of the house and doing things with other young people hasn’t been a possibility. So one of the things that we do a lot throughout the six months that they’re with us is a whole range of social and recreational activities.
“Often our young people, too, have had huge amounts of trauma or abuse in their lives, so one of the things that you want them to do is just to have some fun.”
"There is every kind of cultural background: we come from 10 different religions, 22 different countries; we are every colour of the queer rainbow; we have 16 to 65 in age.”
Another of the key planks of STREAT operations is diversity. “Every business unit …looks like the United Nations of STREAT. There is every kind of cultural background: we come from 10 different religions, 22 different countries; we are every colour of the queer rainbow; we have 16 to 65 in age.” Training amid diversity, she says, helps the trainees feel like they belong. “It’s one of the things many, many young people tell us makes them feel really safe because they see themselves reflected in our organisation.”
Belonging makes a difference: "[They] make you feel really welcome when you walk in. Just a smile that means they know you and care. Simple stuff but it makes me happy to know I belong here," says another trainee*.
STREAT’s outlets have served meals and coffees to more than two million customers. The bakery creates artisan breads, buttery pastries and banana breads for the group’s cafes and for wholesale customers. More than 5000 cups of STREAT’S award-winning coffee (which is available by mail order) are consumed every week.
Every sip and every bite makes a difference, says Scott, when we ask her how people can help social enterprises like STREAT, even if they don’t have a lot of time or money to spare.
“Find your local social enterprise, then your dollars, those small purchases [such as a coffee] start to add up,” she says. “And at significant times of year when you might be buying presents, it really makes a big difference to social enterprises. Obviously we all love donations … but we’re all very much trying to get to that point of financial sustainability, so the more business we get, the stronger we grow.” If you’ve got more time than money, consider volunteering.
As STREAT’s website says, youth homelessness and disadvantage is a big problem, but change can happen “one mouthful at a time”. Or one cup of coffee.
*For privacy reasons, trainees' names have not been used.
SBS's new season of Filthy Rich & Homeless is an honest and compassionate exploration of what it’s like to be homeless in Australia today as it shines a light on a part of our society often overlooked and ignored. Watch the trailer below:
Filthy Rich and Homeless airs over three nights – Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 August on SBS from 8.30pm. A special live studio program will air directly after episode three.
Join the conversation #FilthyRichHomeless