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EVOLVING CHAIR: Keeping Homelessness on the Government’s Agenda

24 September 2015 at 12:09 pm
Xavier Smerdon
Urging the Federal Government to be a leader in addressing homelessness issues especially around funding and policy formation is a key challenge for the Board of Homelessness Australia. The Chair of the Board is Pauline Woodbridge who unpacks the issue in this month’s Evolving Chair.

Xavier Smerdon | 24 September 2015 at 12:09 pm


EVOLVING CHAIR: Keeping Homelessness on the Government’s Agenda
24 September 2015 at 12:09 pm

Urging the Federal Government to be a leader in addressing homelessness issues especially around funding and policy formation is a key challenge for the Board of Homelessness Australia. The Chair of the Board is Pauline Woodbridge who unpacks the issue in this month’s Evolving Chair.

Pauline Woodbridge has had 30 years of experience in domestic violence work including 20 years at North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Service (NQDVRS). Woodbridge is currently the Convener of the Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network, a member of WESNET; the peak body for Australia’s Women’s Services, Chair of Homelessness Australia and a foundational member of the new peak body Ending Violence Against Women Queensland.

Her work in the community has contributed to the development of the broader Domestic and Family Violence Sector as well as building capacity in the local community. She was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in recognition of her service to the community in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday honours list.

What is your organisation and what is the board structure?

Homelessness Australia is the peak body for homelessness services in Australia. We have more than 300 members ranging from homelessness, domestic violence, mental health, alcohol and other drug and youth services, other peak bodies, academics, government and individuals with a lived experience of homelessness.

Homelessness Australia was formed, in 1998, as a federation of three existing peak bodies – the National Youth Coalition for Housing, the Women’s Services Network and the Council for Homeless Persons Australia. These formed the founding councils of Homelessness Australia, each having expertise on a different area of homelessness.

Each council is made up of ten representatives, of which four are nominated to sit on the Board of Homelessness Australia. The Board includes representatives from the council's, special issues delegates (including older women and Indigenous issues) and an autonomous Chairperson.

What attracts you to a Not for Profit or for-profit board?

I believe that many of the issues (like homelessness) in our society are due to societal structures. The Homelessness Australia Board is in a great position to accurately reflect and act on the issues faced by services across Australia. Their organisations have close relationships with people experiencing homelessness and violence who live in the communities they service. It is this connection with our local communities that  gives the not for profit organisations authenticity.

What is the biggest challenge your board has had to overcome? And how did you overcome it?

Some of the early challenges included the ways the three councils learned to work together for the good of all client groups.

In the current climate, peak bodies have had funding cuts so our challenge is to find ways to move forward and to stay true to the values that HA was set up to deal with.

What are your board’s current priorities/goals?

Looking forward we wish to inspire the Federal Government to be a leader in addressing homelessness, and that as an organisation we are able to affect the structures, systems and funding that hinder people exiting homelessness and lead people into homelessness in the first place.

In the short-term, survival of Homelessness Australia following recent Federal Government decisions to remove funding for all homelessness and housing peaks.

Is gender balance an issue for your board? Do you prioritise it?

The Board of Homelessness Australia is predominantly women, reflecting the makeup of the welfare sector. People who come onto the Board are driven by values and beliefs of social justice. The voices of both sexes involved with HA are valued in their guidance to the organisation.

What has been the highlight of your work with this board?

Working with this organisation, its CEO and staff and across all three areas represented by the Board. Working together and with our various partners to bring about an end to homelessness and violence.

What are the key sector issues that are being discussed at board level?

Homelessness. The apparent impending withdrawal of the Federal Government from homelessness policy and government is of significant concern – to the Board, and to the sector as a whole.

Raising awareness of homelessness – in government, the media and the community – is an ongoing issue. Homelessness Australia recently coordinated national Homelessness Prevention Week, where events highlighting homelessness were held all across Australia.

Does your board believe collaboration between organisations within your area is important? Why?

Collaboration is the number one priority of the organisation to accurately represent the views of the whole homelessness sector.

Our CEO, Board and Councils have an amazing network of organisations across Australia which allows us to be an reflective voice of the issues of homelessness and lobby government, raise awareness and work towards good policies and responses to prevent, and end, homelessness.

We often work with other peak bodies, homelessness services and other organisations with their research and campaigns. We recently partnered with Brain Injury Awareness Week and their Bang on a Beanie campaign to raise awareness of the prevalence of brain injury in the rough sleeper population.

Do you have any advice around governance?

Collecting people with experience and passion for the work, and supporting them to be effective as a board member and be effective in their work is essential in running a good Board, and organisation.

Do you have any advice around recruitment?

Homelessness Australia is a value based organisation – so recruitment needs to be reflect these values. Our staff and Board are people with human rights values and knowledge around homelessness and its impacts.

Do you have any advice around risk management?

The value in having experienced and well connected people associated with our organisation allows opportunities to discuss possible risk and management strategies as part of planning.

Do you have any advice around the Board’s relationship with the Chief Executive Officer?

A good relationship with the CEO is essential for productivity. Great things happen when there is positive interactions between the CEO, Chair and Executive and Board. Good leadership helps the members to have confidence in the aims of the organisation.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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