Glenda Blake was on the Shelter WA board for five years (1989 – 1993) and for two of those years she was Chair. Glenda is now the Director of Community Engagement for the City of Gosnells.
Since 1972 Warrawee Women’s Refuge has been providing crisis and supported accommodation for women escaping family or domestic violence in the Western Australian port city of Fremantle. In the late 1980’s a young sociologist who focused primarily on journalism at university was the refuge’s coordinator.
Glenda Blake being witness to the day-to-day issues of the women coming through the centre’s doors found one thing stridently clear. The connection between family and domestic violence and long-term accommodation was inextricably linked and places for accommodation were wanting.
To arm herself with a better understanding of housing policy in her role she found Shelter WA had piqued her interest and she joined the board. “I was probably the only representative from women’s refuges at the time,” said Glenda. “But the dynamic nature of the board and the depth and breadth in terms of having people from community housing, youth services, tenants’ advice services and community legal centres put Shelter WA in a really good position to advocate around all the issues and complexities of homelessness.”
With a diverse board in place the planets began to align for the organisation. Basic and ongoing funding which was ad hoc in the early history of the non-for-profit became consistent and while the funding did not provide everything it meant “some security of tenure”.
Politically the State Labor Government was supportive. “(Housing Ministers) Jim McGinty and Yvonne Henderson had strong social justice principles in terms of their work. They helped Shelter and they advocated in a policy sense,” recalls Glenda. She points to the $100,000 of funding received from Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs for a two-year project to compile a report into migrant housing as a landmark funding project for the organisation. In 1991 that amount was “a lot of dough”.
Another highlight around this time was the emergence of community housing. Shelter WA saw “real traction with it” in the 1989/1990 period which saw several community housing sites begin to operate around the Fremantle area. Under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement of 1984 funding was allocated to several specific purpose programs one being the Local Government and Community Housing Program with an allocation of $11 million. Many collective and co-operative committees formed and applied for funding such as the First Fremantle Housing Collective which is still operating today.
There was also improvement in the rights of residents in Homeswest housing. Homeswest formed an Independent Appeals Tribunal in 1991 as a response to a string of allegations of discrimination and the lack of a proper appeals process. Shelter WA had advocated strongly for this as before “Homeswest would just make decisions about evictions and that was it, you had no right of appeal whatsoever”.
While Shelter WA made inroads in some areas there were major issues to conquer. Glenda recalls the extraordinarily high interest rates. The official Reserve Bank cash rate peaked at 17.5 per cent in January 1990 under Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the economic challenge had an impact. “This impacted on a whole range of things including the affordability of housing. Affordable housing was then and continues to be a huge issue.”
Housing choice was limited and “a lack of understanding around cultural needs and requirements” was one of many issues which came down to a need for a better choice in housing. It was left to Shelter WA to advocate housing for Aboriginal people and to argue the need for different configurations of housing outside of the standard family unit. Housing for the under 25’s and single women were pursued.
As Glenda looks back on her time at Shelter WA there are things which she feels have not changed. “There is still not enough social and affordable housing. It is a no-brainer, and there is still the greatest focus on crisis rather than early intervention.” The government in Glenda’s view puts too much focus on the rough sleeper rather than looking at what action can be taken before they get too far down the path of homelessness. It also remains unnecessarily siloed.
“I know the Department of Communities includes housing, however it is a large Department dealing with a range of complex issues including child protection, disability services etc. I’m not sure that the name change and amalgamation of departments has reduced silos or bureaucracy. A number of ten-year plans have been developed which overlap each other such as a family and domestic violence and youth and homelessness. Whilst I appreciate that the Government has good intentions, I think we need more action and less plans. I know things have changed but in lots of instances things are a bit the same. Ending homelessness is a long-term game, but I think we have had long enough.”