Homelessness Week Communiqué

This year’s Homelessness Week had a focus on ending Aboriginal homelessness, coinciding with the 2020 Danjoo Koorliny Walking Together Social Impact Festival and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day.

Under the leadership of Mr Gordon Cole, Chair of Noongar Mia Mia and Shelter WA board member, the Shelter WA team worked with the Festival to deliver a broad housing and homelessness stream in partnership with the WA Alliance to End Homelessness. The Elder Co-Researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute Ngulluk Koolunga Ngulluk Koort (Our Children, Our Heart) Project were consulted on the development of the program and provided support through their leadership, insights, and generous Welcome to Countries for the week’s events.

Building on the Housing First theme of Homelessness Week 2019, Homelessness Week 2020 focused on how a culturally informed, led, designed, and delivered housing and homelessness system will empower Aboriginal people and deliver great housing outcomes by placing culture, communities and people at the centre. A system built on cultural strength, and centered within an Aboriginal community-controlled framework, will providing housing access and choice, linking homes with well-being and support where, how, and when it is needed.

Closing the Gap

During the week, the Closing the Gap Ten Year Agreement was endorsed by the Commonwealth, States and Territory Governments the Australian Local Government Association and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Bodies to achieve their shared goal to close the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Closing the Gap information can be found here.

The Agreement contains 16 new targets to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A new housing outcome and target has been included:

  • Outcome – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples secure appropriate, affordable housing that is aligned with their priorities and need.
  • Target – By 2031, increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 88 per cent.

The Commonwealth Government announced it will co-invest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled services over the next four years, partnering with State and Territory Governments to help fund the organisations, which will be placed at the heart of new Closing the Gap efforts.


Nerolie Bynder, a Badimia – Noongar – Yamajati woman created two beautiful pieces of art for the week, celebrating the importance of home. You can read more about Nerolie and the pieces that she created here.


Across Western Australia people and agencies held local events to shine a spotlight on homelessness. Shelter WA held five public events, and all were broadcast via zoom to allow regional participants to fully engage and to allow people to connect in a way that felt comfortable during the COVID-19 pandemic. The popularity of this channel for communication was proven by the 100’s of participants that joined us ‘virtually’ during the week.

Homelessness Week 2020 Launch

Noongar Elder Mr Fred Penny, opened Homelessness Week with a beautiful Welcome to Country. Homelessness Week was officially launched, by the Hon. Simone McGurk MLA, Minister for Community Services, who discussed the Government’s actions towards ending homelessness.

The Minister announced the coordination of, and access to, homelessness services will also be improved by investment in an information platform to support information exchange and case management. Mr Gordon Cole invited the audience to create ‘a paradigm shift’. He explained that change is needed to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples control and participation at all levels of government, industry and the community sector if we are to effect meaningful change in the housing and homelessness system. Heartfelt stories were a major part of the launch, with powerful videos from Nicole, Bec and Maria sharing their housing experiences.

Josh Serafini, a lived experience advocate, made a moving tribute to people that have lost their lives whilst living on the streets. Gordon Cole reflected on the housing situation that artist Nerolie Bynder, is currently in. Emma Colombera A/Executive Director at Department of Communities provided an overview on the work that they are progressing with All Paths Lead to a Home, Western Australia’s 10-Year Strategy on Homelessness 2020-2030.

Ending Homelessness – Recovery Post COVID

This event spoke to the current and projected impact of COVID-19 on housing insecurity and homelessness. Seven panellists shared their insights were:

  • Allan Connolly (Lived Experience Advocate)
  • Tiffany Allen, Acting Executive Director Aboriginal Outcomes, (Department of Communities)
  • Amanda Hunt, Chief Executive Officer (Uniting WA)
  • Kerryn Edwards, General Manager Operations (Foundation Housing)
  • Tina Pickett, Chief Executive Officer (Noongar Mia Mia)
  • Sadie Davidson, Advocacy and Policy Manager (REIWA)
  • Trish Blake, GM Residential Tenancies Mandatory Conciliation Services, Consumer Protection

Professor David Gilchrist from UWA facilitated a panel discussion asking panellists to reflect on the current and projected impact of COVID-19 on the WA community, what they were seeing on the ground and what this means for service provision moving forward followed by a Q&A session with the audience. The discussion was varied and robust, making for an insightful session for all attendees.

Journey Mapping

There is concern with the impact on housing insecurity and homelessness when JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments change along with the moratorium on evictions and mortgage payments deferrals.

The Department of Communities was joined by people with lived experience of housing insecurity, homelessness service providers, government, and community members to workshop different scenarios that could unfold to inform the ongoing development of the Homelessness Taskforce’s Scenario Planning and prevention and recovery strategies.

First Nations International Solutions

Shelter WA welcomed Margaret Pfoh, CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA), an Indigenous not for profit housing authority based in Vancouver, Canada, to discuss her insights on First Nations Peoples housing and homelessness. The AHMA oversees Aboriginal Housing providers, supports the development of new housing for Aboriginal people, manages Urban and Rural Housing portfolios and undertakes capacity development through training, consulting and advising member societies.

Margaret Pfoh was joined by Mr Gordon Cole and Lisa Kazalac, Shelter WA, Acting CEO via Zoom to lead a Q&A session on AHMA’s work and what Western Australian can learn from the Canadian experience.

Housing First – Policy into Practice

Housing First is an evidence-based approach to ending homelessness. 50 Lives 50 Homes Manager, Leah Watkins from RUAH is the only Western Australian to have attended the Housing First Europe Hub Train-the-Trainer project. In the first part of her presentation, Leah talked about why Housing First works and how the European models have challenged and inspired her. She presented the new Australian principles for Housing First which were adapted from international examples and designed to be consistent and relevant in an Australian context.

Embedding Housing First into the housing and homelessness service system will require a shift in thinking, along with support and training for government and the services system to keep fidelity with this model. Providing a home and ongoing wrap around support services as required, with no pre-conditions is very different to the housing ready service.

In the second part of her presentation Leah gave an overview of collective work happening in Perth to develop a ‘By Name List.’ The ‘By Name List’ is a real-time, up-to-date list of people experiencing homelessness including rough sleeping. Working in partnership with US based Community Solutions, the ‘By Name List’ helps our understanding of who is experiencing homelessness and why. More specifically it helps us understand the inflow of people into homelessness, and the outflow of people into housing or becoming inactive, which allows us to use this information to respond quickly to address the emerging trends. This data driven approach will put Perth on the path to functional zero, that is, having fewer people experiencing rough sleeping than can be placed into permanent housing.

This project is being funded through a Lotterywest Grant. Shelter WA looks forward to working with the WA Alliance to End Homelessness, to supporting this approach as it unfolds not just in Perth but across the State.

Housing First in a First Nations Context

An invitation only workshop with Noongar housing and homelessness service providers, opened by Gordon Cole and facilitated by Carol Innes, Sharon Wood-Kenny and Josey Hansen, was held to discuss a new project to explore Housing First in a First Nations Context. Workshop participants were given the opportunity to share their experiences within the housing and homelessness system, make suggestions and help to drive the next stages of the project. Input from the workshop is being collated and further information on this will be provided as it comes to hand.

Sponsors, Partners and Media

Homelessness Week 2020 involved collaboration from the community sector, government, industry and the corporate sectors. Shelter WA would like to give special thanks to, the Department of Communities and Beyond Bank for their support of the week. Homelessness Week attracted state-wide media. Key media highlights included an opinion piece in The West Australian on Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness, videos showcased in Northbridge Piazza and Yagan Square, interviews on 6PR Breakfast, 96FM, WAtoday, RTR, Noongar Radio, Kalgoorlie Miner, ABC Esperance; ABC Goldfields; ABC Mid-West and Wheatbelt WA as well as community papers. Social media also saw a surge in page likes, shares and engagements as well as profile banners being changed by many to incorporate the homelessness week banner.

Next Steps and Actions

Chair of Homelessness Week 2020, Mr Gordon Cole, outlined why we need a paradigm shift if we are to end Aboriginal homelessness. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples empowerment and self-determination is key to delivering a housing system that is responsive, adaptive and enables all First Nations people to thrive. Government and service providers need to fundamentally change the way they work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to accelerate improved housing and homelessness solutions and outcomes.

Having a place to call home is fundamental to ending homelessness. Having access to the services and supports to enable people to maintain and sustain that home, and to thrive, is critical to ending homelessness. Placing people at the centre of the service system, understanding what works and doesn’t work, learning from the experience of people with lived experience of homelessness, and using data and evidence of what works to underpin the housing system will drive the change that is needed. The West Australian community can be part of this change.

COVID-19 has reinforced that housing insecurity and homelessness is not simply a question of personal fault or failing but there are deep structural determinants which can lead to homelessness including poverty, lack of employment options, discrimination, economic inequality and access to safe, secure and affordable housing. Factors such as trauma, family and domestic violence, mental health conditions, disability, chronic health conditions, drug and alcohol dependence, out of home care, family break down and incarceration can impact on homelessness1. A robust, evidence-based system that focuses on preventing and rapidly responding to house and support people is critical.

Shelter WA, in partnership with the WA Alliance to End Homelessness, will continue to work with government, industry, the community and community sector to embed Housing First into policy and practice. This transition will require support to facilitate this change. We will continue to ensure that people with lived experience of homelessness have a seat at the table sharing their knowledge and deep insight of what is needed to end homelessness to inform the decision-making process. And we will continue to listen to Aboriginal people and organisations on what we need to do to empower and support them to lead and drive their agenda for change.

Shelter WA will continue our strong advocacy for investment in social and affordable housing, harnessing the strengths of the community housing sector to deliver the housing that WA needs, and for the right strategies and policy settings across all spheres of government to support a robust and strong service system that will end homelessness. This will drive our vision that that all people in Western Australia have housing that enables them to thrive.

Michelle Mackenzie | CEO, Shelter WA

Kathleen Gregory AM | Chair, Shelter WA

John Berger | Executive Officer, WA Alliance to End Homelessness

Gordon Cole | Board Member, Shelter WA