From what we know so far about the history of Shelter WA there is one constant, its choice of suburb when it comes to location. Camille knows this firsthand. In 1994 she was contracted to establish a new filing system at Shelter WA’s Brooks Centre located in Lord Street East Perth. But it would not be long before she and other staff would be packing their things.
“The Brooks Centre was more of a warehouse than an actual office,” Camille recalls. “In the same building were organisations we liaised with such as tenants’ groups, financial counselling and community housing groups. At that time, the East Perth housing redevelopment had started, and many old warehouse type buildings were demolished, and the Brooks Centre was one of those set to go. So, in 1995 we were forced to move out.”
The team landed just a few streets away at Claisebrook Lotteries House (Moore St, East Perth) which had just been restored. An upstairs office was used where Shelter WA remains to this day. After finishing the filing system project Camille continued to work for Shelter WA but in the new position of Administrative, Community & Policy Officer. She would work one day a week on administration with the rest spent in community development and policy work.
Key projects at this time were changes in state and federal government policies and practices on housing provision in the early to mid-1990’s.
In 1991 an agreement between the Commonwealth, states and territories to cooperate in a program of `Building Better Cities’ was established. The Commonwealth provided funds to enable the states and territories to fulfil obligations under various area agreements. The state government focused on the redevelopment of suburbs such as Lockridge and other locations consisting predominately of low-income rental housing. The redevelopment of East Perth meant Shelter WA had to move.
While this was happening Homeswest was running its ‘New Living’ program. The stated aim being to ‘redevelop older public housing estates to create more attractive living environments, to reduce Homeswest’s rental presence and to encourage home ownership’.
Both these programs created concern at Shelter WA.
With the demolition of old to replace new, people were evicted or leases were not renewed. Coupled with the new initiative of the Commonwealth government to introduce rent assistance, Camille saw a reduction of public owned housing and an increase towards private rental for those on a low income. Those who were evicted had limited alternative solutions at a time of high demand in WA for housing. The no-just-cause evictions under Section 64 of the Tenancy Act became commonplace.
An Anti-Section 64 Committee was established to identify and lobby for changes to the Act. Whilst Shelter WA was not a member, it looked at evidence identified by the committee in need of change and its Evictions Project successfully worked the issue. With input from other agencies, the result after much lobbying, was the removal of Section 64 from the Act.
Despite the win, old housing estates continued to be demolished, keeping Shelter WA busy with issues around housing access, homelessness, evictions and affordability. Ongoing research and development of housing policy was undertaken, with Shelter WA representation growing through 10 different committees and groups including the Community Housing Standing Committee, the Home Advisory Committee and the Domestic Violence Working Group.
In 1997 the relationship between Shelter WA and the Department of Housing – which provided core funding – began to sour. The developing media profile of the young organisation was creating friction and rumblings were beginning to reach the office.
“Homeswest had always had an issue with Shelter WA speaking to the media,” recalls Camille. “Any media statements by us were always considered and based on evidence and our practice was to advise Homeswest of such media statements.”
Despite this the issue came to a head.
“They raised the issue at a time when our funding was up for renewal. It had come to the point where we had to know whether we were being funded and in getting no response from Homeswest, staff were formally given their termination notices. The organisation had decided, with support of the staff, that we could still continue to operate, albeit in a more limited capacity, and we would then have no restrictions on speaking to the media.”
When Homeswest was made aware of the intention they relented and confirmed a continuation of funding on the provision that any media statements would be provided to them to allow for a response from the government, a practice which was already taking place.
By 1999, Camille was looking for a change and left Shelter WA to join the Aboriginal Legal Service as the Logistical Coordinator of the Federal Court Native Title Hearings in the upper Gascoyne/Murchison and the Pilbara.
Despite leaving she maintained a role at Shelter WA as a contractor providing support on several projects including the coordination and chairing of the 2001 State Election Forum on housing at which election candidates spoke about their proposed policies.
For Camille today and in looking back, she still has concerns about access to affordable housing. “I worked in women’s refuges prior to Shelter WA and I saw firsthand the problems faced by women in accessing crisis accommodation and the transition into long term accommodation,” she said.
“There was never enough emergency housing for those in crisis and I suspect this is still the case. In terms of government commitment to the provision of housing I sense there is still the problem of limited housing options for the Indigenous and for those with special needs.”
Since leaving Shelter WA Camille Inifer held several roles including, Committee to Homeless Persons Project Officer at the Community Housing Coalition of WA; the Project Development Coordinator at Northside Housing Association; the Community Legal Education & Training Coordinator at the Women’s Law Centre and later Tenants’ Advice Service and in her last position she was Manager of the Gosnells Community Legal Centre.