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Pulse Session 2021: Aboriginal Experiences of Housing First

Our last Pulse Meeting held on Wednesday, 5 May saw the launch of the Zero Project Evaluation Snapshot: Aboriginal Experiences of Housing First.

Commissioned by Ruah and produced by Shannen Vallesi and Lisa Wood at the University of Western Australia, Centre for Social Impact, the Snapshot was launched in collaboration with Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, Noongar Mia Mia, and the Western Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (Alliance).

The insightful piece of research delves into the drivers and experiences of Aboriginal people experiencing homelessness, looks at the challenges in addressing housing needs and the implications for Housing First in an Aboriginal context. The evaluation was made possible by funding from Lotterywest.

The 50 Lives 50 Homes (50 Lives) project, now the Zero Project has been independently evaluated by the UWA Centre for Social Impact since 2016. The Snapshot explores the impact of the 50 Lives program over the last five years, with 40 per cent of the 427 rough sleepers (170 people) identified are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Welcome to Country

Sandra Harben, a Nyungar woman whose family ties are linked to the Whadjuk and Ballardong Nyungar language groups South West of Western Australia, acknowledged the “bosses” and other Noongar representatives in the room.

Sandra Harben

Artwork Reflections

We were joined by Anthea Corbett a Yamatji and Wajarri/Yuet woman from the Murchison who was housed by 50 Lives in 2016 after experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping for many years.

Ms Corbett spoke about her paintings entitled “Wadgee Mia [No Home]”.

Anthea Corbett

The green piece conveys a strong and healthy family unit and trouble free, and the blue piece shows the difference through challenges stemming from the difficulties within the lifestyle, the walking of feet keeping the culture connected.

“Designing and creating these pieces was very emotional for me,” said Ms Corbett. “It has been a privilege to not only be reminded (of homelessness) but to be part of something so great and so real.”

CEO Panel

Before a presentation of the findings a CEO’s panel comprised of Tina Pickett from Noongar Mia Mia; Debra Zanella from Ruah; and Daniel Morrison from Wungening Aboriginal Corporation looked at the issues for First Nations peoples reflected in the report and what long-term solutions are in play.

“From Wungening’s point of view we are really pushing for an Aboriginal approach to homelessness … we need more Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) involved in the homelessness space to help support the Aboriginal community,” said Mr Morrison.

“ACCOs can, I believe, work better with our community and support our community and be more effective … with ACCOs being community run and operated I believe we have a closer connection.”

In response to a question on what work is being done to house First Nations people Debra Zanella reflected on the work being done at Ruah.

“When we looked at the results out of 50 Lives it was evident to us that there has to be something different for Aboriginal people,” said Debra. “This was the genesis of the Wongee Mia project … to inform us about how to work even more effectively with Aboriginal people who are experiencing homelessness.”

“We need a greater evidence base of what Housing First in an Indigenous space looks like - there is not a lot out there except in Canada which has done a bit. This is a great chance for Australia to lead the way.”

[L-R] Tina Pickett, Debra Zanella and Daniel Morrison

Tina Pickett has observed the Housing First approach in Canada and likes the concept.

“I am familiar with the services they provide … their approach is very similar to the Australian First Nation approach where Aboriginal organisations service our mob because of their understanding and cultural capacity and knowledge,” Ms Pickett said.

“They have housing complex units with laundry facilities and caretaker which is managed … I’m looking at something like that for the future.”

Zero Project Snapshot

Shannen Vallesi one of the report’s authors presented the evaluation findings.

For her, one of the most significant findings related to the time it took for an Aboriginal person to be housed. “For the people that were priority listed it took nearly double the length of time for an Aboriginal person to be housed,” Ms Vallesi said.

“It was 308 days after being priority listed for an Aboriginal person to be housed and that is both via public housing and community housing providers, compared to 170 days for a non-Aboriginal person. That is pretty shocking.”

Although extensive interviews were carried out, Shannen did not determine an exact answer as to why that was the case. It was suggested a combination of additional requirements and restrictions on Aboriginal people for tenancy placements (through the ‘Further Assistance Review’ process), an inability to communicate with people who may have lost phones while rough sleeping or who may of left the Perth area leading to missed housing offers which must be accepted within three days. “I think what it comes down to is there is a lot of systematic racism. That is what I feel, and to me, that’s all that can really explain why there is such a difference” Shannen said.

[L-R] Shannen Vallesi and Executive Officer, Alliance John Berger


  • More Aboriginal support services/workers to help people maintain their tenancies and provide culturally appropriate support;

  • Larger housing options to allow people to accommodate extended families;

  • More housing provided via ACCOs and where not possible, cultural competency training of other Housing Support Officers about the importance of family and the kinship obligations around needing to house family when they also become homeless;

  • Expand programs of support such as Wongee Mia to other suitable families to overcome large-scale family homelessness.

You can read the Snapshot here.


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