Collins St and the homeless debate

By Rhonda Dredge

You don’t expect guys with a prime Collins St address to be altruistic but King Ng and Jay Hollerich are laying their cards on the table.

They’ve both signed up to do a pro bono job on a city building earmarked for people experiencing homelessness.

They are both “haves” – in the sense that they run successful businesses.  Yet they are painfully aware how little it takes to become a “have-not”. 

“I asked my mates who all have mortgages how long would your money last if you lost your job? The average was four to six weeks,” Mr Ng said. 

He has given the matter a lot of thought since the Global Financial Crisis. He had been working for big development companies such as Lendlease and Grocon and suddenly found himself with some free time.

He took up volunteering and it was while working at a soup kitchen he observed how quickly a person can decline.

“A guy in a suit was hovering around the soup kitchen,” he said. “Next week he was back. He looked a bit dishevelled. By the next week he was on drugs and alcohol.”

Even on Collins St people are afraid of losing their jobs and ending up in a similar position, King said.

As a property developer, Mr Ng monitors the market and looks for opportunities. He wants to do something now for the homeless and he’s taken on the role of program director for the charity Housing All Australians.

“A lot of buildings in the CBD are empty,” he said. “We’re trying to get landlords to come to the party to use the building while they’re waiting for the next cycle.”

He said the buildings might have retail at the bottom, but they’re empty above. The owners still have to pay outgoings. The buildings could be refurbished and re-used during that time.

King assembled the team that is doing a pro bono conversion of a mid-rise building into a homeless shelter for the City of Melbourne  (announced last month in CBD News) and is ready to take on other CBD landlords.

The pro bono contribution for the City of Melbourne project by the Housing All Australians team will amount to $4 million but another $20 million still needs to be raised. 

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