Due to a lack of funding stability in its early years Shelter WA struggled to maintain a regular workforce. In putting together these profiles it is difficult to find anyone who remained at the organisation for longer than ten years. To hang around for five puts you in a veteran of the organisation category.
Paul Pendergast was destined to stay with Shelter WA longer than most and to achieve this he had to work in two separate roles over two different periods. He “always looked up to Shelter” and saw it filled with excellent people working on issues which suited his long-term commitment to social work.
In his early years he was witness to the personal struggles of homeless youth in Sydney where he worked at a youth refuge close to the Northern Beaches. And upon arriving in Perth in 1988 he worked at the now defunct Fremantle Youth Service. “Through my work we were always grappling with tenancy issues,” recalls Paul. “I was in contact with several people already established in the sector such as Glenda Blake coordinator of the Warrawee Women’s Refuge and she was involved at Shelter. This is how I came to find out about the place.
“The organisation had a Community Housing Resource Unit on Parry Street in Perth and I jagged a job there (in 1993) replacing Garry Ellender as a Resource Worker.”
It was a chance for the newbie to develop some skills in the sector. Paul kept busy by writing newsletters regularly and creating informational papers. The Resource Unit was taken over by the Department of Housing and Works and later transferred to the Community Housing Coalition of WA.
Prior to returning to Shelter WA he worked for the Community Housing Coalition of WA on research and development within the community housing system. This work included: undertaking housing needs analysis; work on the development of regional housing associations; and the development of the City of Subiaco Affordable Housing Study.
Now no longer working for Shelter WA Paul would apply again for a different job coming back to the organisation as Policy Manager in 2001. In the interim he gained a Graduate Certificate in Housing Management and Policy at Swinburne University.
As soon as he set his foot back in the door Paul would start a large body of work culminating in the release of ‘No Place Like Home: Homelessness in Western Australia’ a three year project which “aims to identify changes in the nature of homelessness in WA”. This report released in 2004 would be ground-breaking for the organisation.
Between June 2001 and March 2004 Shelter WA conducted five surveys of agencies dealing with homeless people, providing information about a total of 412 homeless households.
“To keep Shelter WA on the radar you have to have campaigns or significant policy issues that you are working on,” recalls Paul. “I dreamed up this way that we could get coverage for homelessness by setting up a decent sized database of agencies who were seeing homeless people on a regular basis. They would complete a form for each and return it on a particular night and the surveys were conducted four times so variations could be analysed.”
The results created significant interest. Not since Chamberlain and Mackenzie’s, ‘Counting the Homeless 2001: Western Australia’ had there been a large sample of this kind. The media quickly latched on. The figures revealed single income households (and single parents with children) to be most at risk of homelessness. It also revealed Indigenous people are disproportionately represented. Of most concern was the fact children and young people make about half the homeless population. 2004 would also see the very beginnings of what is now known as the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS).
“What we did with the other Shelters under the leadership of Adrian Pisarski from Queensland Shelter was to try and break the nexus over a lack of a response to the improvement of housing outcomes for the ten million Australians who were at the bottom half of the income ladder at that time,” said Paul. “We developed a joint policy platform in the lead-up to Kevin ’07 with funding for a researcher supplied by each Shelter equally.”
The four-page document outlined five key policy initiatives. It made the case for a Commonwealth Housing Minister; a National Housing Strategy; and a National approach for a social housing system, private rental system, and assistance for home purchasers. “National Shelter believes that the best way to increase the supply of affordable rental housing is to provide a direct subsidy available only for investment in low-cost rental dwellings, for instance via a tax credit,” the report said.
“We had a National Shelter meeting with Tanya Plibersek (then Shadow Minister for Human Services, Housing, Youth and Women) in Melbourne via a phone hook-up and when we presented the tax credit you could hear the cogs turning,” said Paul.
Launched officially in 2008 NRAS still exists to this day thanks to the concerted efforts of all the Shelters combined. “It was a real ground-breaker, everything was going in the right direction and when I talk about NRAS today people can’t believe I was part of its inception. Just in WA alone we have over 4,382 properties from the scheme.”
With Paul now working at the Department of Communities his time at Shelter WA has given him a unique insight into problem solving. “When an issue comes up, I know how it would have been solved in the Shelter WA context. There are not that many variations to housing but there are massive benefits.”