MURGON businesswoman Stacey Pratt is known to have a strong commitment to the community.
Aboriginal community-controlled service IWC is known for the way that, in consultation with Traditional Owner / Elders, it seeks out community-driven solutions that break down the cycle of disadvantage in the South Burnett.
So when Mrs Pratt, of family-run Pratt Agencies, identified a way to help people at risk of becoming homeless, she teamed up with IWC to deliver the pilot program focused on providng safe and stable homes.
"Pratt Agencies has a rental roll of around 200 homes in the Murgon area and surrounds," said Mrs Pratt, "and my husband's family has been part of this community for generations.
"The program is simple – we identify the 'red flag' families and individuals who are at serious risk of being get into rental housing because of their history.
"Then we team up with IWC to offer a place in the 'Stable Home' initiative, which works on a number of levels – secure housing, schooling for children, household skills including budgeting, and dealing with immediate welfare needs before moving on to employability and getting adults into paid work that gives them independence."
Agnes Vaeagi, who heads the IWC's South Burnett Child and Family Support team, said the program was structured to meet the immediate and ongoing needs of those most at-risk in the community.
"This pilot program, which got under way in November 2015, has a focus on families with children who at risk of being homeless, whose parent/s are unemployed, may have drug and alcohol issues and are experiencing a domestic and family violence situation," she said.
"It is driven by an identified need in the community and underpinned by strong consultation with Traditional Owner/Elders with a focus on breaking the cycle of welfare."
Mrs Vaeagi said the program focused on personal empowerment.
"This is a stepped program designed to build family unity, empowerment, community resilience and capacity and to give participants the type of life with a home, a job and building a sense of pride in their cultural heritage," she said.
"It commences with a 12-week establishment phase where a number of goals are set which all focus on providing stability and a sense of purpose in the family's life. If goals have been achieved in the three-month period, participants progress to a position of trust as a contributing member of the community and are provided with an opportunity to move into a quality lifestyle through access to better housing and secure employment.
"This is a methodology which is strongly supported by Traditional Owner/Elders as it is working towards breaking the cycle of disadvantage and welfare/entitlement in the community. It does not simply throw money at the problem but provides basic requirements – roof, furniture fundamentals, food packages followed by a structured delivery of coordinated support services that focus on empowerment."
Mrs Pratt said the program was a true partnership.
"People enter it through coming to my agency to seek housing, but with a bad track record which has them 'red flagged'. Some of the participants come to us through families I'm already involved with, and who are seeking an opportunity to change their lives. Many referrals to the program come from Traditional Owner/ Elders and community members who want to see positive progress in our region.
"Once the participant and their family is accepted, I take care of the housing side of things, while IWC steps in to deal with the areas of welfare, including Centrelink, any agencies such as probation and parole or Child Safety, and also works with the participants around the key areas of household management skills, including budgeting.
"IWC will work with services such as Graham House Community Centre to find suitable furniture for the house, but the focus is on empowering the individuals and family members – we want them to find solutions for themselves, in a supported environment."
Supporting the families around ending child truancy, and encouraging parents to enrol their toddlers in local early learning child care centres, also is a key part of the program.
"We say to the parents, 'you need to break the cycle," said Mrs Pratt. "This is not a program that is restricted to young people, but approximately 60% of participants in the program are single mothers or young parents at severe risk of becoming homeless and, through that, potentially losing their children."
Working together, Mrs Pratt and the IWC work to mentor and guide the participants, drawing on the services of other agencies and services as required in the best interest of the client.
"It is a ground-breaking program. It is a life-changing program. It is an initiative that is innovative and driven by community need, and that is why it is working," said Mrs Vaeagi.
As for Mrs Pratt, she says it would not work with any organisation other than IWC.
"They are brilliant," she said. "I would rate them at 15-plus out of 10, and I know a lot of other people around here do too. They work with the Traditional Owner / Elders, with business, with council and the community in its entirety to deliver a whole-of-person, holistic approach that is making a real difference in our region."
About the pilot program:
The program works from a positive strengths-based focus includes the following aspects:
· Supporting the family into stable housing in the community.
· Working with the family and children to ensure regular school attendance and where required provide access and easy pathways to culturally responsive early childcare for pre-schoolers.
· Teaching independent living skills, including budgeting, cooking, household management and paying bills on time.
· Providing access to Alcohol and Drug and Domestic and Family Violence counselling services and/or culturally appropriate programs.
· Assisting with the identification of education and training needs with a focus on employment.
· Assisting the adult household members into paid employment available locally in the community.
Positive outcomes to date:
· A reduction in the number of rental homes being damaged by tenants and anecdotally a reduction in crime has been reported by local business.
· Increased attendance at school and early childcare centres.
· Improved cultural connectedness and sense of pride and identity.
· Unemployed people finding work or moving into training opportunities
· Families learning to take control of their households, including saving and budgeting for items which instils a sense of pride and ownership.
· Increased stability within living circumstances including stable home and reduced family and domestic violence.
· Increased personal empowerment, increased capacity and flexibility for independent living to allow them to care for and protect their children.