Meet Magic, The Very Good Doggo Helping To Combat Youth Homelessness

There are groups all over Australia doing their bit for the community by helping to combat social issues. But one string of cafés in Melbourne’s city is harnessing the power of doggos to make a change in the lives of homeless and disadvantaged youth – and it’s paying off big time.

STREAT is a social enterprise focussed on improving the lives of young Australians. It first started trading back in 2010 as a humble food cart on Federation Square with plans to build a fleet of food carts with the capacity to operate all over Melbourne’s CBD. But after a year of standing out in the beating sun and pouring rain, the team decided to search look for an indoor location.

Eight years later and STREAT now operates out of four locations across the city, has trained and supported over 1,100 young people, and has helped serve meals and coffees to over two million customers. And it’s their hands-on approach that’s making such a huge impact.

“We work with marginalised and disadvantaged young people aged 16 to 24. They can do a range of programs with us,” STREAT Chief Impact Officer and Co-Founder Dr. Kate Barrelle tells The Cusp. Our main program goes for six months and involves four main elements: individual and tailored support from qualified professionals; a group program with life and work-readiness skills; accredited training through our TAFE partner Melbourne Polytechnic; and real work experience in our cafés being mentored by our totally awesome hospitality staff. Plus a huge sense of connection and belonging.

“We provide one-on-one support to young people and provide group programs around work readiness and life skills to help build that bridge from where they may be struggling, to being job ready,” she says.

So STREAT is already doing an incredible job at assisting homeless and disadvantaged youth, but just last year the team decided they could use more hands on deck – or, in this instance, paws. Magic, the labrador-kelpie-cross therapy dog joined the STREAT team, having a far greater impact than expected.

Good girl.The young people participating in the STREAT program are completely obsessed with Magic (same). So obsessed in fact that they rated her at 111% when it came time to evaluate their experience. She received rave reviews like, “Dogs make everything better – especially Magic,” “It’s her eyes – they say, ‘I like you’ every time she looks at you,” and “She helps my head just by being there. I can pat her and my head calms down.”

Many of the young people in STREAT’s programs have been through rough experiences, and having a familiar face and wagging tail to comfort them has made the world of difference.

“The only reason some young people are able to participate in our program is because of Magic,” says Barrelle. “They have such high anxiety. The calming influence of a therapy dog allows them to come to STREAT, and to stay at STREAT.”

Much like any business, STREAT needs capital to survive. As a social enterprise, all profits go into the youth programs. STREAT is 71% self-funded through their businesses but when a six-month program for 15 young people can cost upwards of $90,000, business revenue becomes very important.

Back in 2016, STREAT was awarded a Westpac Foundation Social Scale-up Grant, which provided the business with $300,000 over three years, as well as non-financial support and mentoring from Westpac Group employees.

“To be able to run a really complex social enterprise organisation like STREAT, it takes a whole back-end of business systems, processes governance and operational platforms that we need to be really good at,” says Barrelle. “The mentoring from the Westpac team has assisted immensely in this regard and assisted in STREAT’s sustainability.”

What you can do to help out? 

So how can you get involved to assist in making sure STREAT continues to do all of the incredible things they do? Well, loads so it turns out.

First and foremost, if you’re in Melbs and need some catering done, choose STREAT! You can also book an event at their beautiful spaces in Collingwood and Melbourne’s CBD, or buy their wholesale coffee and bakery products.

The team is currently trying to raise $2,500 ASAP to train one of its social workers to be able to work alongside Magic and use her in a professional therapy capacity with its young people.

So next time you’re in Melbourne, drop by one of their four locations for a coffee and feel good knowing your purchase is benefiting the greater good.

For more info, visit the STREAT website.

If you’d like to talk about any issues with your mental health and options getting long-term help, you can reach Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.