The Melbourne Period Project is a program that provides care, support, and sanitary products to homeless women and trans men. For people who have periods, it can be a tough few days no matter your situation. But for those sleeping rough it can bring an extra level of humiliation and fear to an already stressful situation. For many they need to report to asking stranger for help buying tampons and pads, or risk stealing them. If they can’t do either, some resprt to using napkins and newspaper to manage. Furthermore, the need to change a pad or tampon regularly with nowhere safe of private to do it leaves them vulnerable to abuse and attacks.
To try alleviate some of this stress, the MPP provides several different packs that include a mix of tampons, pads, and toiletries items. The packs are distributed throughout the city by several local homeless support groups.
Co-founder Donna first started thinking of starting a project to help women manage their periods while working with her first outreach venture Blanket Melbourne, that provides warm quality blankets to people without anywhere to stay. Her time with these men and women, and well as women’s health groups who she came in contact with, made her realise there was a piece of the support network missing. She was already thinking of else she could do when she met cofounder Nat through a homeless support group she was running. Nat was looking to develop a way to get sanitary products to homeless women, and Donna quickly realise she’d met the right person to start this project with.
Good Good Girl had a chat with Donna about the project, and this very serious but hidden part of people’s lives.
GGG: Hey Donna, can you tell us about how the MPP started?
Donna: We had just started an initiative called Blanket Melbourne where we managed to gather over 3000 blankets for Melbourne’s homeless. The issue of the homeless period came to light in the midst of that. So once the blankets were sorted out we launched MPP. Nat and I met on another page I run called Melbourne Homeless Support group.
Can you describe how the MPP works?
We collect the products by having a team of volunteers all around Melbourne that act as drop off points for us. The products are all put into our Period Packs and delivered by hand either to those rough sleeping on the streets and in parks, and also given to people in transitional housing. We have about 14 distributors. Now that we connect with.
What do you actually hand out?
Our Period Packs which have pads, tampons, liners, wipes, hand sanitiser, disposable bags and a Freddo Frog.
Do you buy the products yourself or are the donated?
Everything is donated by the public and by our sponsors Libra and TOM Organic.
Although outreach programs have been around for a long time, I feel like it’s only recently that people are talking about the issues homeless people have with managing periods. Why have we ignored these issues for so long?
I think social media has been a very powerful medium in getting the word out there to everyone about what’s happening out there and that people are in need of help. We can’t keep ignoring it. Women have had a much more powerful voice and things like periods are now discussed as a regular thing, not something to be hidden.
Without the MPP what other options do people have to deal with their periods?
They often have to use products not designed for periods, like toilet paper, socks, clothing, or they have to steal to get either the product or the money to buy it.
Homeless women and trans men are already incredibly vulnerable to assaults and violence, how is this heightened when they are menstruating?
When not menstruating, people can bunker down in their safe place and hide out there until morning. When they have their period they may need to leave to look for products to use and to clean themselves up. This puts them at greater risk of being followed or attacked.
For a long time we haven’t spoken of the issues surrounding homeless women, but I also think we’re still not totally facing the issues for trans men who are homeless. What are in their packs?
Each pack for Trans men is made up according to what they need. They’re all made to order so they can pretty much have anything in their pack that they like, as long as it’s something in our range.
We’re connecting with LGBTI groups to let Trans men know that we’re out there. We’re raising awareness that obtaining sanitary items can be really hard for homeless Trans men hence the need for the Hemlock packs. Apart from that they just need the same things as everyone else.
Considering all the discussion around the tampon tax this year, do you feel like the government is disconnected from women’s health issues?
Most definitely—the fact sanitary products are still seen as something women can choose to buy or not to buy is unfathomable. Periods aren’t a health issue until women are forced to use inadequate products because they can’t afford to buy what they need. They get infections and need treatment. That’s a health issue. Periods are a normal part of life. They’re not a health issue.
You work with Anonymous X when you go out and hand the pack out, can you tell me about why that face-to-face contact is so important?
Face to face is important for everyone—people connect with others every day in many different ways. Being on the streets can make that harder. Every day you’re dealing with strangers. Imagine going to work every day and the whole workplace is full of new people, every single day. How hard would that make it to connect with people. You just wouldn’t bother because you’d know they’ll be gone the next day. Connections are a vital part of human existence. We believe every one needs that and we aim to provide that. It’s not a sympathy service, it’s just common sense and it’s nice.
What do you want to see done in Australia to improve the lives of the homeless, and evoke long term change to improve the situation?
The Government needs to shift into being the fence at the top of the hill, not the ambulance at the bottom. Fix the mental health problems, support those with disabilities, give vulnerable families support and help people before they hit crisis point.
What’s the most challenging part of this project?
Getting people to understand how much help we need to do this. People always tell us they love what we do and that we inspire them, but it would be great if people pitched in financially so we could do this better. There are many things man hours can’t pay for, and we need money to cover those. We look after over 1000 women and trans men per month now and as much as we’re getting some fabulous donations of products in, it doesn’t pay for the phone calls we make, the petrol we use, Myki fares, the cost of the bags we pack in and many other incidentals we put our hands in our pockets for. We love that people want to volunteer with us, it’s fabulous, but even If we tripled the volunteers it still won’t pay for the bags. We pay for the bags
If people want to help out, what can they do?
At the moment we are desperately funding for a warehouse. We are operating out of my garage. People assume we’re a big organisation because we reach so many people. We’re not. We are a garage operation and we need our own space. We get many requests every single day from people who want to volunteer with us, but there is simply nowhere to put them. I can’t put them all in my garage, there’s no room. So we struggle a lot with the logistics of MPP because we don’t have a warehouse. Imagine a supermarket manager having to store all the groceries at home in his garage. It’s exactly like that for us. We need financial donations for a warehouse, and then the doors will open to anyone who want to volunteer!
Visit the Melbourne Period Project to see how you can help