Sunday, 28 October 2012

25 Years of Queensland Shelter

Tomorrow evening is a function celebrating the 25th anniversary of the creation of Queensland Shelter, the State's peak housing organisation.  I helped create it back in 1987, so I get to say a few words.  Here they are, or at least some of them.

1987 was famous in Queensland history as the year the Tony Fitzgerald was commissioned to conduct a 6-week inquiry into police corruption in Queensland.  Less famously, it was also International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.  A few of us formed a State committee, got some money from Brotherhood of St Laurence, did roadshows around the State on housing and homelessness issues. 

At the end of 1987 we were quite happy with what we had acheived, but we realised we were still a little short of our objective - ending homelessness in Queensland - so we decided to keep going.  We reconstituted ourselves as Queensland Shelter so we could be part of the nationwide network of Shelter organisations.  Helen Wallace, who is now my business partner, even designed us a logo based on the National Shelter one .  Theirs showed two human figures in a tiny house.  Helen carefully whited them out and replaced them with two tiny pineapples. 

Obviously we were operating on a shoestring.  People dropped away early in the next year and at one stage I remember us having 4 people at a meeting at Rosemary Grundy’s house – Rosemary herself, Ross Wiseman, Helen (by then pregnant with Grace, who is now 24!) and myself.  We gradually rebuilt from there thanks to the enthusiasm of some new people, particularly Deidre Coghlan, who replaced Helen at the Catholic Social Welfare Commission, a number of people who worked in Brisbane's homelessness sector, and a young architecture student who became our treasurer and took care of our bank account which steadily rose to the heady sum of $600.

In the late 1980s Queensland was very definitely the poor cousin amongst Australian states when it came to housing and homelessness services.  In 1988 a small group piled into the minibus which belonged to the Maryborough Housing Action Group where I worked, skirted carefully around the Expo 88 traffic and drove down to the National Shelter conference at the University of Wollongong.  We stayed in the student quarters and in the evening we sat in front of the big TV in the student common room, watching news updates on the Fitzgerald Inquiry which was well into its second year and working its way through the ranks of senior police and politicians.  NSW had a new government and the conference was dominated by their angst over cuts to various housing programs.  We were less sympathetic than perhaps we should have been because as they listed the things being cut we were going “never had that”, “never had any of those” “never had that” and we realised that even post-cut they were much better serviced than we were.

“Success has many parents, failure is an orphan”, as they say.  There has been a huge improvement in housing and homelessness services in Queensland since 1987 and many people can share credit for that, but Queensland Shelter has been at the centre of that change, lobbying, bringing people together, developing solutions and promoting good ideas.  It has been continuously funded since 1990 and these days it has 9 or 10 full-time staff and a Statewide network of branches, as well as being the main driver for National Shelter.  In that time the organisation has had three outstanding and long-serving executive officers - Eleri Morgan-Thomas, Roksana Khan and the current incumbent Adrian Pisarski - who have kept the wheels on the track in good times and bad.

However, despite all this we still haven’t eliminated homelessness. Not time to give up yet!

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