Cafe Meals for people facing disadvantage

Wednesday 13 February 2019

A woman in a cafe with exposed brick walls eating a sandwhich

For 15 years Café Meals has been helping people who are experiencing homelessness or unable to cook at home visit local cafes and buy healthy meals.

“A lot of people who don’t have a kitchen, or don’t have regular access to food, have that anxiety of ‘Where am I going to get food tomorrow? How much money have I got left? How am I going to manage all this?’” says Dietician and Café Meals Coordinator Katrina Doljanin.

Participants can visit selected cafes and restaurants once a day during opening hours and buy a meal up to $12 in value for just $3. 

“People are eating more often... [Café Meals] improves their general variety and quality of food,” says Katrina. 

Along with the nutritional benefits, Café Meals helps reduce the social isolation experienced by some participants by giving them a regular place to go with a friendly atmosphere and staff.

 “I’ve got a place that I can meet people… I can meet friends, I’ve got a place where I can just sit and be and get waited on and it’s really nice and special,” says Kylie, a participant in the program. 

“It makes you feel attached to the local community in a way that I wouldn’t be able to afford.” 

Café Meals can also help improve mental health through better nutrition, reduced food anxiety and create a safe environment to access meals. 

“It gets [participants] away from their usual environment – they might have been accessing food somewhere it didn’t feel comfortable, or socially acceptable or safe to them,” says Katrina. 

Individuals are referred to the program from a number of different health and support services, where case workers will determine what support best suits each person’s needs. 

Participants must go in for an assessment four times a year with their worker, where they can provide feedback on Café Meals, discuss their needs and set goals for the future.

Ray, who experiences health issues, said ““It has caused me to develop better day-to-day living habits, improved my diet, encouraged me to get out-and-about.”

“I consider it to be a vital component in a healing process and improvement.” 

There are four participating restaurants in Yarra, Zouki Café, Garden View Café and Fagito café in Fitzroy, I Love Pho in Richmond and Friends of the Earth in Collingwood.

This gives participants plenty of options for location and a variety of meal choices. 

Café Meals has helped destigmatize people experiencing homelessness among staff at the participating restaurants. 

“[Traders] have got a very narrow idea of what a homeless person looks like… After participating in the program they’re quite pleasantly surprised - they’re also our greatest advocates,” says Katrina. 

Café Meals is a collaboration between cohealth, local agencies and cafes with the support of Yarra City Council. 

To find out more about Cafe Meals, you can contact cohealth at



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