Since joining Centrecare in 1993 it was inevitable Leanne Strommen would cross paths with Shelter WA. Beginning as an Outreach Worker to support those at risk of losing their tenancies from public housing throughout Perth’s south-east corridor she moved to a senior role within Centrecare in 1996.
With that new role came the increased collaboration with peak organisations, housing and homelessness sector organisations. Leanne identified Shelter WA as a natural and immediate fit. “It was a great organisational representative and for me as an individual it related to housing, accommodation, support and homes,” Leanne said. “Shelter WA strongly believed people had the right to a home, and their work was essential for the sector and for tenants’ rights.”
Entering the Shelter WA board as Vice Chair in 1998 Leanne’s other sector roles were also growing at a state and national level. Leanne’s first time at the organisation was short leaving after one year.
However, this was not the end of her time within the sector nor with Shelter WA. Leanne joined the Community Housing Coalition of WA (CHCWA) board as Chairperson and remained in this role over a period of six years. She also joined the Council to Homeless Persons Australia (CTHPA) and the Australian Federation of Homeless Organisations retaining roles within these organisations to this day.
In 2012, Leanne returned to the Shelter WA board. “When I came in the second time there was a varied board made up of representatives from private industry, mining companies and from the social services sector,” recalls Leanne. “It was a diverse and innovative board. Shelter WA had grown in its reputation as a strong and representative peak body, and it was dynamic.”
There was a changing focus for Shelter to work across the full housing continuum from homelessness to homeownership and to include the voices of all. Shelter WA was supporting service providers, in addition to the people accessing the services, while being able to reach out to people who had no access to a home. At the AGM in 2013 Leanne became Shelter WA’s Chair replacing Richard Sheridan.
When 2014 got underway it seemed it would be just another busy year but by the end of it a peak housing body would be gone. The Department of Housing decided to procure the services from only one housing peak sparking a competitive tendering environment between Shelter WA and CHCWA.
With Shelter WA possibly coming to an end it was a challenge, but it was not a challenge that Leanne or the board was going to walk away from. The staff continued to work hard, despite the complexities of this period and pulled together to be “strong and connected”.
In July 2014 Shelter WA was awarded the Policy Advice, Stakeholder Engagement and Influencing Services contract by the Department of Housing.
Homelessness Prevention Week (now Homelessness Week) was coordinated for the first time by Shelter WA in 2015, with funding from Lotterywest and the Department for Child Protection and Family Support. The theme “Step Up to Prevent Homelessness” was developed by Homelessness Australia, the coordinator at the national level.
“Although there had been different times in the past that other organisations did it, we took the front foot with the event,” said Leanne. “At that stage now being the successful peak, we were working across that spectrum to implement several aspects of strategic planning we had carried out.”
The development of a WA Housing Hub was one such body of work. It was a key outcome of the new contract with the Department of Housing and the website was launched just four months after the start of the new contract.
For Shelter WA, it was a mechanism to engage with stakeholders by sharing information relating to news and events, research, affordable housing case studies, as well as our online support services directory, housing options and resources. The site won two WA State Awards as part of the 2015 Australasian Housing Institute Professional Excellence in Housing Awards Program the categories won were: Leading Tenant Engagement Practice and Leading Innovation.
Looking back on her time at Shelter WA and thinking about what the staff had achieved with projects like Homelessness Prevention Week it reminded Leanne at how it has always been a “small but very productive peak organisation”.
“Shelter WA people have always been very committed to what they are doing, the staff, board members and the member organisations. It has been great to be associated. There is still lots to do and across the areas of homelessness and home ownership, but we still have that continued voice in Shelter WA.”