How one zine that shares lived experiences is helping homeless people with what they need to know

How one zine that shares lived experiences is helping homeless people with what they need to know
Kaylah Joelle Baker

Not-for-profit health agency Cohealth and the City of Melbourne have joined forces for a unique project that will help support people with current and past experiences of homelessness.

The project will involve the writing and distribution of a zine called Need to Know, which will be centred around providing both advice and information about services for people living on the streets.

Zines are small self-published works of text and images that are photocopied to make a limited number of physical prints.

Within the editorial committee of eight who meet fortnightly at the Kathleen Syme Library in Carlton, where they are provided with free printing and a space, are Cohealth peer workers with lived experiences of homelessness.

One of the Cohealth peer workers now assisting with leading the zine is Caitlin Gough, who is using her personal story and experience of when she became homeless during the pandemic to help others share their story.


“You can’t learn what we know, you have to live it. It’s coming from the inside, it’s not the outside speaking in,” Ms Gough said.


Currently living in temporary accommodation, Ms Gough said she was “proud” to be sharing her experience through the zine, despite still finding it tough.

The zine includes advice on how to get a vaccination certificate if you don’t have a phone, updated lists of food, shower and laundry services, and will soon share articles about going through rehab and caring for your pet while homeless.

While already seeing its positive impact following a demand for an increase in copies to be printed, Cohealth peer worker and Need to Know editor Spike Chiappalon said “the process is as important, if not more, than the outcome”.

“There’s also the psychosocial aspect [for the members] of hanging out with other people with a shared experience and having a common goal,” Mr Chiappalon said.

“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.”

Through the project, the City of Melbourne’s Kathleen Syme Library has also been able to provide upskilling opportunities through graphic design tutorials and digital literacy support.

But more importantly, Mr Chiappalon said the opening of the library’s doors through the project has also helped break stereotypes that are often associated with people experiencing homelessness.

“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,” Mr Chiappalon said.

To further break the stigma and encourage homeless people to feel comfortable going into libraries and accessing resources, the 300 hard copies of the bi-monthly Need to Know editions can be collected from Melbourne Town Hall, community centres, youth spaces and City of Melbourne libraries.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure our libraries are a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone in our community – no matter their circumstances,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“Melbourne is a caring city, and we believe everyone deserves access to vital services and safe spaces to connect with others.

“We’re proud to support Cohealth’s Need to Know zine initiative by providing a safe space for its contributors to share their stories
and experiences.” •

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