A group of people with current and past experience of homelessness are writing and distributing a regular ‘zine called ‘Need to Know’ for people living on the streets, thanks to a unique partnership between cohealth and City of Melbourne libraries.
The editorial committee of eight, comprised of cohealth peer workers (people with a lived experience who now work supporting others) and other people, meet fortnightly in the Kathleen Syme library in Carlton, with City of Melbourne providing free room bookings, free printing and upskilling opportunities such as graphic design tutorials and computer literacy support.
cohealth peer worker and Need to Know editor, Spike Chiappalone, says that Need to Know allows people who have been homeless or are still homeless to share their knowledge with the broader community, with tips on getting a vaccination certificate if you don’t have a phone, and regularly updated lists of services that provide food, showers, laundry services and plans for articles about going through rehab and caring for your pet while homeless.
As well as helping the people who read it Spike says that the project is building the capacity of the people who produce it, providing community learning and social participation.
“The process is as important, if not more important, than the outcome,” says Spike.
“There’s the psychosocial aspect of hanging out with other people with a shared experience and having a common goal,” says Spike.
“But it’s more than just meeting once a fortnight. We decide collectively what will be in each edition, then we all go away and do research, talk with people and share our findings. Everyone is involved every step of the way with writing, researching, printing and deciding where to distribute,” he says.
“There’s a myth that homeless people are lazy or criminals, and that stereotype leads to people withdrawing from social participation, or even from occupying public spaces that they are entitled to, like libraries,” says Spike.
Need to Know is distributed in hard copy at the Melbourne Town Hall, community centres and youth spaces, and also through City of Melbourne libraries, to encourage people who are homeless to feel comfortable going in to libraries and accessing other resources.
Demand for the ‘zine has increased as services request more copies to be dropped off, with the committee now printing 300 copies of each bi-monthly edition.
The City of Melbourne supports the project because it aligns with the values and mission of libraries, which is to provide equitable access and authoritative information, and making libraries a welcoming and safe space.
City of Melbourne libraries have also said that hosting the Need to Know editorial committee has also allowed for two-way program development, as library staff learn more about what people need when they are sleeping rough, and how the library can fill the gap.
Caitlin Gough, a cohealth peer worker, first became homeless during COVID, and is still living in temporary accommodation. She is now leading Need to Know along with Spike.
“Things are still pretty rough, but I’ve come a long way and I’m so proud to now be sharing my experience through Need to Know, and helping others share theirs,” says Caitlin.
“Academia is all good, but you can’t learn what we know, you have to live it,” she says
Of Need to Know, Caitlin says, “It’s coming from the inside, it’s not the outside speaking in.”