Homelessness charity spawns two social enterprises
4 August 2022 at 2:05 pm
What started as a charity to help people experiencing homelessness be safe, warm and dry has evolved into two social enterprises, creating even more funds for the homeless.
Tony Clark started Backpack Bed for Homeless, a national homeless charity, with his wife Lisa in 2007.
Seeing a clear need to help those in the period between rough sleeping and finding accommodation, the motivation was clear.
“We said to ourselves, how would we want to be treated? What would we need?,” he said.
Clark says that a safe, private, warm, dry and fire resistant bed was the order so they got about making them.
“There were a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of work that goes into not only creating a product that has the quality values we were insisting on, that we would want, but also to create the fire retardant fabrics that were needed,” he said.
Why fire retardant fabric?
Clark explains that on the street, fire is often used as a weapon.
“These individuals have often found themselves on the street due to factors outside of their control and they need, more than anything, a good night’s sleep.
“Our Backpack beds offer that and many have reported that they had the first good night’s sleep in a long time after receiving their beds,” he said.
With more than 800 partner agencies, Clark has contributed to improving safety and care of Australia’s most vulnerable.
“What they usually do as soon as they receive it is, in Melbourne, hightail it out of the city and to a quiet and safe neighbourhood.”
Creation of Social Enterprises a natural evolution
Tony says his “life-saving” Sleeping Bag Hypothermia Pack and Backpack Bed emergency bed product naturally lent itself to the camping market and with that, Seasonfort was created.
“With only three full time staff – we work incredibly hard. We believe there is no greater gift than giving someone dignity,” he said.
“So in creating Seasonfort, it is an extension of that as all profits go towards helping the homeless.
“Our entire product range has the functionality to meet the needs of products used in camping, outdoor pursuits, emergency services, disasters and the military,” he said.
In an impassioned talk with Pro Bono News, Clark explained that after creating the initial ‘Swags for homeless’, the fire retardant fabric was seen to be essential.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that a lot of sleeping bags and tents are not fire retardant.
“When you are sleeping rough, that is a genuine safety concern,” he explained.
“So from the backpack bed, [we] created new fire retardant fabric technologies for [it].”
From there, the dynamic couple saw the need for fire retardant sleeping bags. Which turned into the well-respected camping product business and the patented fabric, which can be licenced for third-party products, TrexSmart.
Data, taken from the most recent report compiled by Homelessness Australia, show in the last year (2020-2021), 109,207 people came to homeless services needing long-term housing. This housing was only provided to 3.4 per cent of those needing a home.
It shows just how critical charities and social enterprises such as Clark’s ventures are, in being a stop gap for those in need.
“Donations made in Australia are used in Australia. The social impact of our program has been calculated as $3,319 per Backpack Bed, which equates to more than $117 million of social impact across Australia,” he said.