A Safe Way Home: Building a better future at the 15th Women and Homelessness Forum 

Unlikely Suspects Panel at the 15th Annual Forum
Unlikely Suspects Panel at the 15th Annual Forum

A range of change makers from across the housing and homelessness sector gathered at The Lady Musgrave Trust’s Annual Forum to discuss the pathway to a safer home for women and their children. 

Following last year’s Forum, which examined the causes of homelessness, this year’s event – which once again sold out the Theatre Foyer at QUT Gardens Point Campus in Brisbane – focused on how women can navigate the way out of homelessness and build a better future. 

“We wanted to continue the conversation we started last year,” said Victoria Parker, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust. 

“This year’s program is about putting the spotlight on the things that are making a difference. We’re hoping to change mindsets, we’re hoping to inspire, and we’re hoping to connect people and organisations so their solutions can make a difference.” 

Facing the housing crisis 

A Safe Way Home panel at the 15th Annual Forum

The first session of the day focused on the reality of the housing crisis that’s being felt across Australia – and the need for a National Housing and Homelessness Plan to help solve it. 

Aimee McVeigh, CEO of the Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS), said Queensland has become the epicentre of the national housing crisis, with a 20 per cent increase in homelessness over the last five years – almost triple the national increase. 

“The scale of the crisis in Queensland is huge,” she said. “The cost of rent has grown more in Queensland than any other jurisdiction, and it’s particularly stark in regional Queensland. 

“We have about 300,000 Queenslanders with unmet housing needs at the moment. To put that in perspective, that’s about double the population of Cairns.

“Population growth is certainly a factor, in terms of why Queensland is experiencing the national housing crisis in an acute way. But this crisis is decades in the making, and it’s really the result of successive governments – at both the State and Federal levels – ignoring the problem.

“What I think is lacking at the moment is a real, mission-driven ambition. We need to have a cultural expectation in this country that everyone should have access to housing, and that should be our north star, both at a national and state level.”

Kate Colvin, CEO of Homelessness Australia, the national peak body for homelessness, agreed that leadership and a clearly articulated plan will be required to solve the housing crisis. 

“We’ve not seen a commitment to addressing this crisis from the Federal or State governments yet,” she said. 

“Something I’m excited about is that the Federal Government has committed to developing a National Housing and Homelessness Plan, which will be a 10-year plan. 

“We’ve all seen government plans before, and sometimes they end up just describing the problem, describing what’s already been done, and suggesting a couple of small initiatives. And I think there’s some prospect that may be the case for this plan. 

“But our hope is for the government to set that mission-driven ambition that everyone has a home, and make it a real plan for ending homelessness. 

“That would invite us to look at the drivers of homelessness. And of course, people having access to housing they can afford is critical. But there are other factors that need to be talked about in a plan to end homelessness. 

“We need people to have adequate incomes, and that’s something the Federal Government, in particular, can play an important role in. There’s not enough being done in terms of income support. 

“We also need to address the huge gaps we see in terms of homelessness service delivery, and in terms of people having the support they need to thrive, so that homelessness doesn’t occur in the first place.”

Aimee referred to a report recently prepared for QCOSS by University of New South Wales Professor Hal Pawson, which found Queensland needs 11,000 affordable and social homes each year for the next 20 years to end the crisis. 

“We need to keep all levels of government accountable when it comes to solving the housing crisis,” she said. 

“We do need that ambitious plan at a national level, but then we need an interlocking state strategy, with transparent supply targets. In addition to that, we need better laws for tenants and a fairer private rental market.” 

Ultimately, Kate said the advocates in attendance at the Forum needed to steel themselves for a long road ahead. 

“It can feel strange when you’re the person who keeps saying, ‘We need more social housing, we need more social housing’,” she said. “But one of the funny things about advocacy is that you just have to say it, again and again and again, until it’s done. 

“There’s a maxim about campaigning – it’s when you start to feel sick of saying the thing that it starts to get momentum publicly, and I feel like we’re finally getting momentum around social housing. It’s a very mainstream topic now, but we’ve got to keep pushing until it’s done.”

Justice for all 

Women’s Safety & Justice Taskforce - What Happens Now panel at the 15th Annual Forum

The second session focused on the work of the Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, and the ongoing efforts that have resulted from its recommendations. 

The Honourable Margaret McMurdo AC, the former President of the Queensland Court of Appeal, served as chair of the Taskforce from March 2021 until July 2022.

The Taskforce released two reports in that time – the first addressing the need to legislate coercive control and domestic and family violence in Queensland, and the second addressing the experience of women across the criminal justice system.

Even as one of Australia’s most seasoned legal figures, Margaret said her work on the Taskforce – which heard submissions from hundreds of women with lived experience of domestic and family violence across Queensland – opened her eyes to inequalities in the criminal justice system. 

“Through my work on the Taskforce, I saw that the criminal justice system had really been designed by men, with men’s interests at its centre,” she said. 

“It’s only in relatively recent years that women have been involved with the criminal justice system as lawyers, judges, and so on, as women have taken a role in public life. 

“In every aspect of modern life, the fact that women’s voices are now being heard… is leading to a change in policy.”

The recommendations of the Taskforce included laws targeting coercive control and adopting affirmative consent, and the introduction of an education campaign to dispel rape myths for female victim-survivors of sexual assault. 

Senior public servant Cathy Taylor has been appointed as the Independent Implementation Supervisor to oversee the government response to the recommendations made by the Taskforce. 

For Cathy, the opportunity to implement these recommendations has been a long time coming. 

“I was admitted as a solicitor in 1988,” she said. “Around that time, the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act commenced in Queensland. And I can remember thinking, this is going to shift the dial. 

“But while I’ve seen progress since then, and it’s fantastic to see that progress, there’s still a long way to go. For example, we have women in the criminal justice system who are being remanded because they don’t have a safe address to be released to on bail. They should be released, but there’s nowhere for them to go.”

Margaret agreed that the need to get women out of custody and into safe housing should be a priority. 

“Our current model of locking up more and more people in prisons and young people in youth detention centres does not work,” she said. 

“It only exacerbates the problem. The statistics are very clear on that. Much more needs to be done to invest in proper accommodation and support, so they don’t offend in the first place. 

“And when they do offend, there needs to be a holistic, supportive program to get them out of custody as soon as possible, and get them out into the community in proper accommodation and housing.

“You can’t just keep locking up more and more people, and then releasing them back into the community without any support, and then they re-offend. It’s not working, and it’s a waste of money. 

“We’ve got to get that message out into the public, so politicians feel they can address this issue without losing their seat… there’s this law-and-order issue at every election, with each side trying to be the toughest on crime to get re-elected. But that’s not the answer, and it’s only going to make things worse.”

From homeless to hopeful 

Homeless to Hopeful panel at the 15th Annual Forum

The third session focused on innovative solutions that are making a difference in the sector, and how these initiatives can be replicated.

Victoria Parker, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust, said that collaborations and partnerships are key to making an impact – a sentiment shared by the rest of the panellists. 

“We partner with the best in the business,” she said. “We purchase properties and we work with housing providers like Churches of Christ, who provide our property management services. Then we look to work with community organisations to provide services and support for our tenants, such as YFS and InCommunity. 

“Our core business is to increase the number of safe places to live for young women and their children, the majority of whom are escaping or have experienced domestic and family violence. And we are thrilled to be partnering with the corporate sector to do that. 

“We look to be the bridge, or the backbone, that pulls together different partners to deliver an outcome. For instance, we can’t announce the specific details yet, but we’re pleased to say there is a large developer in Logan who has donated a block of land to us, and the property and development sector, thanks to the Property Industry Foundation, have formed a pro bono design team who have developed plans for a housing hub that will house four young families. 

“YFS have come on board, and will provide on-site support for these women once it’s operational. We’ve got a builder lined up who’s willing to do the job at cost. This is a shovel-ready project, and if we start by February 1, we will have this ready and delivered by August next year. 

“We’re on a major fundraising push to get the construction costs, so we can get this off the ground and prove that this model of safe and supportive accommodation with on-site support – the result of a partnership between community, charity and the private sector – is a model that can be replicated elsewhere.”

Jan Owen, co-convenor of the FoyerInvest Consortium, stressed that ending homelessness is about more than supplying accommodation. Her organisation’s Youth Foyers provide young people, aged 16 to 24, with safe and stable accommodation for up to two years, as well as integrated education and employment pathways. 

“It’s about putting stepping stones in place beyond accommodation,” she said, “because without that stability, you can’t think about what you need to do next – and that’s what you need to do to get out of the cycle of disadvantage.

“We recently undertook an analysis with Accenture that found the cost of youth homelessness is split, almost 50/50, between Federal and State governments. And we found it costs them $386,000 when a young person is homeless, but if they’re in a Foyer, that cost goes down to $172,000. 

“If we could work with 20,000 young people by 2050, we could save those governments and taxpayers $2.9 billion – and that money could be repurposed for genuine, long-term housing solutions.” 

Chris Seiboth, the executive lead at Lutheran Services Australia’s Community Services Support Centre, agreed that effective solutions needed to take a holistic approach. 

“The first stage is about stability and safety, and the second stage is about rebuilding, finding economic independence and pathways to full recovery,” he said. “We work with women to provide education, and then a job placement, and then ongoing employment if they so choose.” 

Madonna Cuthbert, Acting Executive Director, Programs, Housing and Homelessness Services at the Queensland Department of Housing, highlighted the amount of funding the Department has made available and stressed the importance of ensuring that solutions are responsive to the needs of those facing homelessness. 

“The current housing situation is very different now to what it was even a couple of years ago,” she said. “It’s very important that we continue to re-examine how our products are designed and how they’re being used, and where appropriate reimagine how they can be better utilised.

“With our Housing Outcomes for Older Women Initiative, for example, it’s critical for us to work with older women to develop the implementation of that initiative, and to see if the products and services we’re funding are actually responding to their needs, or if there are issues that we could tweak to make them more useful.

Alternatively, we’re identifying underutilised buildings and giving them new life by repurposing them for more appropriate uses”, Madonna said.  

Dushy Thangiah, CEO of Yumba Meta, a community housing provider for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in Townsville, said the current housing crisis is opening the wider community’s eyes to a problem that has always existed. 

“It’s been very interesting for me to observe the housing crisis over the last 12 months or so, because First Nations people have been experiencing the housing crisis for over 50 years,” she said. 

“We came up with our unique model by combining cultural knowledge, community knowledge and business. The program is designed to support people at different stages of a person’s life – we have crisis accommodation, transitional accommodation, and long-term accommodation, and we’re also one of only two specialist domestic and family violence services in Townsville.

“When a person enters Yumba Meta, they don’t have to repeat their story to a number of different agencies, which we find can be quite disrespectful to people, and very hard for someone who’s going through a crisis.” 

Men making change 

Men Making Change panel at the 15th Annual Forum

The fourth panel of the day featured men who are making women’s safety their issue, and highlighted the role men can play in building a safe home. This was a session that had the room in total silence and complete focus.

Professor Michael Flood, an internationally recognised researcher on men, masculinities, gender equality and violence prevention from the Queensland University of Technology, said there are three things men can do to prevent domestic violence and lessen the problem of homelessness. 

“The first is that we don’t personally drive women into homelessness, and we treat the women and girls in our own lives with respect and care,” he said. “As men, we have to literally put our own houses in order, to make it less likely we strip others of their housing. 

“The second thing we can do is speak up. So often, men find themselves in situations where another man is behaving in a coercive or sleazy or derogatory way towards women, and many of us don’t do anything about that. 

“We don’t think the behaviour’s okay, but we don’t know what to do or what to say, and we don’t want to be the party pooper. But we should speak up in relation to the men around us who are behaving in ways that feed into domestic violence, and thus into homelessness. 

“The third thing men can do is join the campaigns and services represented by the people in this room, join the collective movement to end domestic and family violence, and vote for candidates that give a s**t about women and domestic violence. 

“Let’s put our money, our time and our energies into efforts that will make the structural and systemic changes we need.”

Dave Kramer, an ambassador for Small Steps 4 Hannah, agreed that speaking up is crucial. 

“I was very close with Hannah Clarke,” he shared. “I was also friends with Rowan Baxter… And that need to ‘speak up’, I felt a lot throughout the time I knew Baxter. But what stopped me was what he was doing was what everyone else was doing. 

“It was what I’d grown up with, what all the boys I played rugby league with did, what I saw when I worked in factories when I was younger. The things he said, the things he did, the ways he behaved – they were what everyone else was doing. 

“Until February 19 2020, I didn’t realise there was such a problem with these kinds of behaviours. In the last few years, I’ve even recognised things I did to contribute to supporting the belief systems that he held, that gave him the entitlement to do what he did. 

“One of the challenges we have in speaking up… is that we create a distance, a cognitive dissonance. We say, ‘well, I’m not part of the problem, it’s not my fault’. And that gets in the way of actually saying to our mate, ‘you can do better’. 

“Over the last three years, I’ve thought about all the things that I would’ve, could’ve and should’ve done to prevent Baxter from doing what he did, and when I do that, I also think about all the things I did to give him permission to do it. 

“All the jokes I laughed at with him. The sexist jokes I contributed to. Sitting alongside him as he yelled at Hannah for not playing her role as a mother, not doing what mothers ‘should’ do, and not saying anything, even though I felt uncomfortable. All of those moments were points where he got permission from me to take the steps that he took. 

“I think some men find it very difficult to see that it isn’t just a joke. They’re not just words. It’s devaluing and dehumanising women, in such a way that it gives men permission to use violence against them. 

“So when we speak up, we have to take accountability for any contributions that we might have made ourselves to that culture that supports violence against women. That isn’t easy, but it’s necessary if we’re going to change the culture.” 

Darcy Robertson, the Safe Relationships Program Coordinator at Brisbane Youth Service, said to think of the path towards domestic and family violence like a bus line. 

“If you’ve got violence against women at one end of the bus line, then you might have something seemingly quite minor at the start of line, like making sexist jokes,” he said. “Of course, not everyone who laughs at a sexist joke is going to go home and perpetrate domestic violence. But you don’t get to the end of the bus line without making all of the stops beforehand. 

“When we work with young people, we’re seeing them at a pivotal stage in their development when they might have just gotten on the bus, and they’re not all the way along yet.” 

Dean Cooper, a Violence Prevention Specialist with Griffith University’s MATE Bystander Program, said that changing behaviour starts with changing the beliefs that enable that behaviour. 

“What we aim to achieve in behavioural change programs is a cognitive restructure behind the thinking that drives behaviour,” he said. “Eva Cox, the feminist and sociologist, has a great quote – ‘It’s not, ‘how do we stop that man from doing that to us?’, but ‘how do we stop men feeling like they’re entitled to?’’

“The flag that we look for – and that we should all look for in our friends, in our work colleagues, and in our community – is the phrase ‘she should’. If we hear a ‘she should’, there’s usually a belief system behind that, or a sense of entitlement to certain behaviour. 

“So these programs are aimed at unearthing those belief systems and talking about them in a way that’s not shaming or embarrassing or belittling, because what the neuroscience of offender rehabilitation has taught us is that a shamed brain never learns. 

“It’s about having conversations about whether those belief systems serve them in their relationships, and allow them to be the father or the partner they want to be. None of them want to be in prison with domestic violence orders, and with their partners and children hiding from them. None of them want to be there, so how did they get there?”

The unlikely suspects 

The Unlikely Suspects panel at the 15th Annual Forum

The day’s final session featured non-traditional partners for catalytic change – representatives of organisations who are proving that when we work together, good things happen. 

Fiona Worrall, the CEO of Peggy’s Place – a privately funded refuge for women who have escaped violence – has spent her career forging partnerships between police, health, child safety and corrective services. 

“It takes a whole community to make a difference around housing,” she said. “When I first came to Queensland 12 years ago, I was working at the domestic violence unit at Caboolture Police Station. I remember ringing up Child Safety for the first time and saying, ‘Hey, can I come over for a visit?’ And they said, ‘Why?’ 

“So I love that, 12 years later, all of our service systems are finally talking to each other, and we’re sharing information around risk and how we can work together.”

Tamara Smith, the CEO of Suited for Success – a charity that provides free styling, clothing and career support services for people in need – said her organisation is dedicated to amplifying the efforts of community organisations who are making a difference, rather than competing with them.  

“In the charity sector, one of the most frustrating things is there can be a lot of duplication,” she said. “We wanted to come in and amplify the impact a lot of you were already having. We wanted to add value. 

“If you’re doing a job skills program, we can supply your young people with beautiful outfits for when they start going to interviews. If you’re placing people in traineeships, we can provide them with a week’s worth of outfits so they don’t have to worry about where the money for those clothes will come from. 

“That’s what we do, and we’re really passionate about partnering with community groups to increase our individual impact.”

Antoinette Rusby Perera, the Queensland State Manager of the Property Industry Foundation, sees her organisation playing a similar role.

“We build homes for young people experiencing homelessness in partnership with other charities,” she said. “We don’t run them, we don’t manage them… we hand them over a house or accommodation hub they can use.

“We started when a bunch of property developers got together and said, ‘Why don’t we build homes for homeless youth?’ They saw a problem, and being property developers, their first instinct was to build a way out of that problem.

“But we’re not the heroes. We’re not at the coal face – all of the organisations in this room are the heroes. We’re the people who provide the infrastructure and expertise so organisations like those at the Forum can do their job.”

Sara Parrott, CEO of Hand Heart Pocket – a philanthropic foundation established by the Freemasons of Queensland – said her organisation is similarly dedicated to building partnerships. 

“We’re seeking to deploy our capital through social impact investing, but we don’t build or deliver anything ourselves,” she said. “We look for long-term partnerships. We’re building a portfolio of relationships, of organisations that can work together and support each other. 

“We’re helping to convene and bring together people who are interested in increasing the amount of housing for young, at-risk people in Queensland. What we’re trying to do is combine government funding, private funding and grantmaking, and bring traditional investment opportunities like real estate trusts into the social housing space.” 

Leanne Collingburn, the Pro Bono Partner at HopgoodGanim Lawyers, is also dedicated to using her company’s resources to make a social impact. 

“I feel we have a moral obligation to make the most of the legal support we can offer,” she said. “We mapped out the short-term and long-term impact that we want to have in three priority areas – helping First Nations communities; mitigating the impact of natural disasters; and reducing domestic and family violence – and we let that dictate the type of pro bono work we do. 

“That means we get to work with awesome organisations like The Lady Musgrave Trust, as we take on work that helps us achieve the short-term and long-term changes we want to see.” 

This event was made possible through the support of our partners, the Queensland Government (who also was the naming rights sponsor of the Homeless to Hopeful session); QCOSS, QUT Centre for Justice; Project 55 by Elevate Residential; and Valiant Events and Hire.

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who joined us at The Lady Musgrave Trust’s 15th Annual Forum on Women and Homelessness, both in-person and online. Thank you for the work you do to improve the lives of women in Queensland – and for helping us to keep the conversation going. 

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