Waking up in our car (VW Touran); Photo: Thomas Alboth

A housing project designed to provide those who are experiencing homelessness or rough sleeping with a safe place to rest their heads is leading the way in demonstrating how partnerships between corporates and philanthropic organisations can address social problems.

Known as the Make Room project, the collaboration will see a Melbourne City Council-owned building at 602 Little Bourke Street converted into safe and supported accommodation for those experiencing homelessness and sleeping rough on the city’s streets.

On completion, the property will be managed by Unison Housing. It will feature up to 50 studio apartments as well as communal living areas, and will also offer housing and homelessness services and other support for residents.

Corporates have become involved too, with PWC and ANZ fundraising for Make Room and Bunnings committing to delivering a rooftop garden at the property. With a total cost of $20 million, Make Room has also benefited from funding commitments from the state government, The Ian Potter Foundation, and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation. Most recently, the Gandel Foundation contributed $1 million.

But it’s not just the financial backing that has helped get this project off the ground. Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne Sally Capp said the project had taken a strong, collaborative approach to addressing homelessness as organisations from across the sector brought their strengths to the table.

“I think this is a really important aspect because if one tier of government or one organisation could solve the issue of homelessness, it would have happened,” Capp said.

“This is highly complex, it’s a situation that has evolved over decades of neglecting housing as a human right. It’s a whole lot of other social and environmental issues that have led to high levels of people experiencing homelessness for a variety of reasons. And the complexity of this, I think, demands a whole-of-community response.”

With philanthropy, council and corporates all joining forces, Capp said it was important that every team involved recognised its own strengths and how these could contribute to the common goal, without one single organisation or person owning the project or solution. Once this common goal was settled, the project could begin smoothly.

She added that Make Room would not have been possible without such collaboration.

“We couldn’t be doing Make Room without [the state government’s] support for capital works and the ongoing funding of services at the facility. We couldn’t be doing this without the expertise of Unison Housing, we couldn’t be doing this without agreement between our on-street services teams and the police. People with lived experience have been assisting us, and of course the philanthropists and backers. It’s been a conversation about that common goal and being realistic about the roles we play and maximising those organisations in those roles,” she said.

“I think we’re working with organisations that understand that this is about making a positive difference in people’s lives; it’s not about whose name is above the door or who takes the credit for it or who is recognised as leading it.”

Vedran Drakulic, CEO of the Gandel Foundation, said cross-sector collaboration showed that organisations could work together to do good.

“We feel that it is important to have collaborations happening across the sectors and we do that obviously with other philanthropic organisations, but also with coalitions of not-for-profit organisations and … working with government and other partners,” he explained.

“This example to us is really good because it involves the local council. Traditionally it has been seen in the past that councils perhaps don’t have a role to play when it comes to issues such as homelessness or affordable housing. And in our mind, the City of Melbourne is showing that they can play a very meaningful role and in this case in particular, that’s with their allocation of a property that they own to be used for this purpose.

“This whole project is very much regionally driven by the City of Melbourne. And we at the Gandel Foundation are not leading the collaboration, we are also part of the collaboration. But it is not new or unusual to us to do things across different sectors. So it’s really just a question of finding a common purpose and common project like this one and then joining forces.”

He added that collaboration also presents a number of benefits to major projects, including reducing costs associated with the project and allowing for the sharing of expertise.

For not-for-profit or philanthropic organisations looking to take the leap into a collaborative partnership like the one behind Make Room, Drakulic said it was vital to “do your homework” on what the project is, and make sure it aligns with your own mission.

“And listen! That’s the third point – that’s very important. Very often we say, ‘yes, we listen’, but you listen, but you don’t hear. I always say listen carefully so you can actually hear what each partner is saying and what they can contribute, and also where there may be opportunities for each organisation to contribute even further,” he said.

Capp agreed, and recommended that organisations focus on how to work together to achieve the desired outcome. She said listening, accepting and adjusting course as advice comes through all contribute to a successful partnership.

Drakulic added that the future looks bright for collaboration on social justice projects.

“Within the not-for-profit sector, there is continued emphasis on collaborating and partnering on whatever the initiative is and from the Gandel Foundation perspective, we see that as very important and we hope that this trend will continue into the future,” he said.

Construction on Make Room will start in October, and accommodation and services at the site are scheduled to open in late 2023.