Bernie’s service is inspiring

December 15, 2015 @ 9:29am

When things fall apart and you have nowhere to live, Argyle Housing’s Bernie Welfare may well be the first person to set you on the right path.

Bernie had been working within our reception for several years when a new way of managing waiting lists for social housing was introduced. Called Housing Pathways, the program combined the waiting lists of Housing NSW and community housing providers, and Bernie became Argyle Housing’s first housing Pathways Advisor in 2010.
Since then she has embraced the role that “never in a million years” she thought she would be doing. Before Argyle she and her husband ran a formal hire shop in Canberra.

In fact she has achieved so much that she was named Inspirational Team Member of the Year at the 2015 Professional Excellence in Housing Awards, beating out competition from all over Australia and New Zealand.

Bernie’s role is to help people experiencing homelessness navigate the process of applying for somewhere to live, however it is rarely just about housing.

“It’s important to connect these people with all the supporting services in our area, as often they just don’t know where to start. Sometimes as their first point of contact I can help them build confidence. They don’t want to approach the other services – they might be scared of how they will be perceived – however by about the third contact with me they have enough confidence to be introduced to other support,” she said.

Bernie said the main challenge of her job was the lack of accommodation available for her clients. Current waiting times for a one bedroom property in the Highlands can be up to 10 years, more for a two-bedroom.
On top of this is the need for temporary crisis accommodation, and the demand for this can come from surprising places.

“An emerging trend is the homelessness among women over 55. They may be coming out of a divorce or a domestic violence situation, and have never had to find somewhere to rent on their own. They may be sleeping on the lounge at their adult children’s place, or their husbands may have cut off all their funds.
“The face of people experiencing homelessness has changed. There is no stereotype,” she said.

Bernie said that a lot of people don’t believe that domestic violence and homelessness is much of an issue in the Highlands, but she sees the reality first hand.

“The number of children under 16 needing accommodation is rising, and high rents are also forcing people out of Sydney. They get on the train, and the Highlands is the end of the line,” she said.

While she can get the process underway to find accommodation, often people turn up at Argyle Housing door with nothing. So Bernie runs fundraising events throughout the year to provide cash which she gives to these people to ensure they have a meal that night, or some nappies for their baby. Often the money is used for a train ticket to Sydney to find other accommodation when the Highlands is full.

“People ask why we don’t give vouchers, but often these people don’t want anyone to know their struggle, especially in the Highlands where people tend to know each other. They may present really well, but they could be sleeping in their car. It’s not fair to judge, because you never know when you could be in that situation.”

As Argyle’s longest serving tenant participation worker, Bernie has developed a close working relationship with several community groups, several of which support her fundraising or provide blankets or teddies for those experiencing homelessness.

“But I don’t do this on my own – we have a great team here and the support comes from the top and runs right through,” she said.


Story by Jen Walker
As published in the Southern Highlands News, November 11th 2015