Solving the emergency housing crisis, together
11 October 2021 at 4:46 pm
As the CEO of Women’s Community Shelters, Annabelle Daniel OAM is using the power of collaboration to house vulnerable women across Sydney. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Every night, more than half of women across Australia seeking a bed in a crisis shelter are turned away, mostly due to lack of space.
This shortage of safe accommodation for women and children fleeing abusive homes is something Annabelle Daniel OAM is trying to solve.
Following a brief stint in corporate law (which she immediately knew wasn’t for her), she became involved in family law, discrimination and domestic violence.
A key role in Annabelle’s career was as the manager of Elsie, Australia’s longest-established women’s shelter, providing services and support to women and children experiencing homelessness and escaping domestic violence.
Taking on the role of head of Women’s Community Shelters (WCS) in 2013, she has grown the organisation, now leading seven shelters across NSW and managing 15 staff.
And at the end of this year, the number of shelters is set to increase to nine.
WCS operates under a ‘tri-partite’ funding model, in which government, philanthropy, business and community all work to provide funding to establish and operate the shelters.
And at a time of reduced government spending for charities, Daniel has embraced this power of collaboration with open arms.
WCS also places great importance on community ownership – working alongside local community members to set up and oversee the running of each shelter, so that the community feels as though they are really part of the project.
The organisation also provides a range of extra services such as access to counselling, health care, legal help and further education, to help ease the burden of starting again during such a difficult time.
For her work with WCS, Daniel was named one of Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25 2021 award winners.
In this week’s Changemaker, she talks about the things that inspire her leadership, how to stay grounded when times get tough, and how working as a community sector leader has changed the way she sees the world.
How did you end up in the job you’re in now?
I studied law at university, and went into commercial law after finishing my degree. I found pretty quickly that I was a square peg in a round hole. I’d always enjoyed studying discrimination and the law, and family law. So it took me a while to find my feet after my brief stint in commercial law, but I eventually ended up working for the Federal Public Service in an area that centred on child and family issues, and increasingly issues of service delivery and domestic and family violence. I then had the opportunity to run Elsie’s Women’s Shelter, which is Australia’s oldest women’s refuge. That was really a life changing experience. About 18 months on from that, the opportunity to join WCS arose, which at the time had only just started up. I started with a desk and a phone in 2013, and we’re now an organisation of almost 15 staff, and will have nine shelters open by the end of this year.
Can you tell me a bit about the tripartite funding model and why you chose to adopt it?
So essentially, WCS was set up to address the desperate need for crisis accommodation for women and children who were homeless or leaving domestic and family violence. More than one in two women who seek a safe place and support for accommodation are turned away every day.
And so our mission was to work with local communities around NSW who’d seen a need to provide more crisis accommodation services and walk alongside them through the project management of establishing a shelter, getting everything [the local community needed] together that they needed to do that providing funding support, helping pick the right people to run it and then joining every shelter that we created together in a network where we continue to provide support.
And so WCS provides philanthropic funding, the NSW state government provides a level of funding for each shelter’s operations, and each community fundraises the balance. So it’s a mixed and sustainable funding model, and communities take real ownership of solving domestic and family violence and women’s homelessness in their community.
What are some of the things that inspire your leadership?
I think for me, it’s being in service to social justice for women and children. I go to bed every single night knowing that there are 150 women and kids who are sleeping safer because of the work I and my team have done. And it is the very direct frontline and necessary service that we’re providing that just keeps me inspired every single day. Every time we open a new shelter, we are full within a week. We’re opening two new shelters by the end of 2021, and I just know how necessary they are in the locations where we’re opening. Knowing that there will be women seeking our help immediately is absolutely what keeps me going and keeps me motivated as a leader.
You’re working in pretty challenging and tough environments at times, what are some of the things that keep you grounded?
I am a single parent with two kids, based in Sydney. That means I’ve been supervising my kid’s homeschooling from lockdown, which has at times been really tough. I have an amazing team who I trust deeply, and who aren’t afraid to tell me if I get something wrong.
And I like to do things outside the serious issue in which I work to keep me grounded and to keep me chugging along. And that’s things like having interests in clothes, fashion, and gaming.
And how has this job changed the way you see the world?
When I was working at Elsie’s Women’s Refuge, what I got to see right in front of me was all of the systemic discrimination that women and children face. Previously I had dealt with it in a much more abstract way, but working on the front line meant it was right there, in front of your face. You’d see women who had experienced abuse, who’d been the victims of crime, or had their money taken from them.
What that did for me was highlight an understanding of how real and immediate these issues are and just how much work we need to do in terms of advocacy and systems, as well as providing a crisis response, but also engaging the broader community around it. You know, this is not a problem that the government, private, or NFP sectors alone can solve. This is a whole of society problem, and it needs a whole of society solution.