The late 1980s would prove to be a turning point in the history of Shelter WA.
In its early years, the organisations role was to be the lobbying arm of the Tenants’ Advice Service (TAS). It was a relationship which worked giving Shelter the chance to grow steadily under the auspices of TAS.
But a consistent lack of funding was holding it back and hampering any clear direction. Not since the 1984/85 period when Shelter received Commonwealth Employment Programme money had much been done. So, when an injection of funds from Homeswest was secured on 6 February 1989 in the amount of $50,000 there was an explosion in work. Attention turned to the organisation’s constitution (incorporated officially in 1990) and structure with the aim to make Shelter WA both a representative of and more responsive to the sector.
Work began on several specific housing issues including the 1989 Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA); input into the Review of the Emergency Housing Office; input into the Review of Homeswest policies and practices and involvement in the State Advisory Committee to the Local Government and Community Housing Program (LGCHP). This was an exciting time to work at the organisation and for a young person freshly back from the UK with a Social Work Degree under her arm it was a great opportunity.
“It was a role I jumped at,” said Leanne Barron. “My title was ‘Field Development and Resource Worker’ and the Homeswest funding covered my role and that of Maxine Bell who was a part-time administrator.”
The community service sector was growing in WA and existing organisations found themselves dealing with an increasing amount of housing issues which sat outside of their core business. Groups such as Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS), the Women’s Refuge Group and the Council to the Homeless and the Youth Specific Housing Peak (YACCOM) felt there was the need for an overarching housing peak that could lobby around public housing and stock levels.
It fell to Leanne to find a place for the Shelter WA jigsaw piece in an ever-growing puzzle of existing organisations and consumers. Office space was shared with TAS and the Federation of Housing Collectives at 195 Lord Street, East Perth.
“We only had a very old typewriter and my submission to the Local Government Community Housing Program (LGCHP) was actually the first time I’ve made a submission to a Government process,” says Leanne. “It was painstakingly typed out and I was informed by consultations with the groups we represented.”
The LGCHP was funded by the Commonwealth Government through the CSHA and was administered by the State Government via Homeswest. Its aim was to develop innovative forms of housing, including models of tenant management, and to encourage the spread of these models into other housing programs such as mainstream public housing.
Shelter WA pushed for greater tenant participation within the LGCHP and other housing programs. It organised a two-day conference which was attended by over 100 representatives of community groups, housing co-operatives, local government, and federal government departments from across WA. It recommended the program be accessible to a range of groups within the community including Aboriginals, people of non-English speaking backgrounds, people with disabilities and youth.
“We didn’t want community housing to grow at the expense of public housing because we wanted overall stock increases,” recalls Leanne, “the other thing about this program was to encourage local government to be a part of a housing solution.”
Another body of work under Leanne’s guidance, with support from National Shelter was a submission to the 1989 Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. “This was the first time the CSHA promised something a bit more visionary than what we had seen previously. It was seen to have the potential to really shift public housing along.”
Funding was allocated to Shelter WA to run consultations and outside consultants were brought in to run consultations across the state. “National Shelter were really driving this and there was a dream that the CSHA would move us into a tripart arrangement between the federal government, the state government and the community and we would all be involved in it.”
While the flurry of work continued staff at Shelter WA kept a close eye on the calendar. The Homeswest funding was for one year and a decision was needed into whether a peak body for housing was needed. When 1990 arrived, it would be a do or die year.
“Greg Black had been the Homeswest Executive Director for a couple of years,” said Leanne, “and he had come over from South Australia which had been more progressive in their public housing policy. He understood the role of Shelters and Shelter SA was a strong body.”
Having someone in the Department who understood Shelter WA was a good reason to forge ahead. This led to Shelter WA Incorporated which commenced operations on 1 March 1990. In this year, the first Annual Report was produced, and the newsletter revived.
After the incorporation, a flurry of activity took place. Shelter WA had secure representation on the State Advisory Committee on Housing, and the Community Housing Advisory Committee. Much to the delight of Leanne a Lotteries Commission grant for $6,500 was secured to purchase a computer, printer and software.
In 1991 Leanne Barron resigned from her role to go on maternity leave. Looking back on the time, the early lobbying for an appeals mechanism for Homeswest tenants Leanne believes was one of Shelter WA’s great achievements. Although not immediately adopted a model was developed and written into the 1989 CSHA.
“It showed we were having some effectiveness in Ministerial Advisory Committees and to this day I still think about the framework for an effective complaints process in the work I do now.”