Hearty advice from Elders helps staff and customers
- 10 November 2020 2:55PM
Aunty Shirley O’Shea and Aunty Shirley Fender
Local Elders are helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers with their housing support needs through the Elders in Residence Program, a partnership between the Queensland Government and Burringilly Aboriginal Corporation.
The program has been in place since 2012 and provides an important connection between customers and staff of the Logan Housing Service Centre.
Aunty Shirley Fender and Aunty Shirley O’Shea are two of the Elders who visit the Logan Housing Service Centre as part of the program.
“I love meeting and helping people, that’s why I do it,” says Aunty Shirley Fender.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers can talk to an Elder about their tenancy, getting a house, issues at their place, doing business with the department, or any other issue.
“We’re here to help our people in the community,” says Aunty Shirley O’Shea. “We talk to them about their options. We can tell them about transfers, maintenance, arrears, RentConnect, private housing. If we can’t help them, we ask a housing officer to help, or refer to them to another support service.”
The Elders often work in twos, and the two Aunty Shirleys tend to stick together as a team.
“We get on well together. We back each other up. If Shirley doesn’t like something I say, she can say, there’s other places you could go, there are different options you could consider.”
Over the eight years of the program, the Elders have built up strong connections in the community and say that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers will come in to see a certain Elder when they know they’re working.
“People stop us in the street, and say, Aunty, you work at Housing, when are you on next?” says Aunty Shirley Fender.
“People respect us and see that we’re here to help the younger generation, to be an example,” says Aunty Shirley O’Shea.
Logan Housing Service Centre staff also participate in and get a lot out of the program.
Mandy Scott, acting Customer Service Manager at the centre says she sees the true value of the Elders in Residence Program.
“Logan has a high percentage of Indigenous customers, and having the Elders here helps bridge the gap,” she says.
Elders are on hand to give advice to housing staff to better understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
“The Elders add an extra layer of cultural support for the department and our First Nations customers,” she says.
“Elders take the time to understand the customer’s concerns and then support the customer to engage with the department. They provide advice and support to our staff and help the HSC break down barriers and build positive relationships with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community here in the Logan,” she says.
Positive relationships are what Aunty Shirley O’Shea also loves about the program.
“When they go out with a smile and say: thank you very much, I didn’t know I could do this, I didn’t know support was here. That makes us happy.”
The Elders are available at the Logan Housing Service Centre twice a week, on Monday and Wednesdays from 10am to 12pm.
Uncle Noel: We say, you’ve got to have a black face, if you don’t have a black face they’re not going to go there. If there’s one of our faces in there, we’ll go there and we’ll check it out and we’ll go there because there’s one of our own people there.
Ethan: Being a proud Indigenous man myself, and I grew up in housing, I had seen that when clientele came in if they didn’t feel comfortable having the hard conversations with staff, having the Elders here bridged that gap.
Charmaine: Elders provide great support not only to the Logan community but the staff within the Logan Housing Service Centre. We receive support and cultural advice and also help us navigate and provide culturally appropriate responses in relation to sorry business or other community events.
Uncle Noel: It started as a pilot project, it was supposed to go for 6 months, but it’s been so successful it’s been going for 8 years now.
Uncle Paddy: If we’re not there, they won’t talk to them, but if we’re there, they’ll talk to them. It makes it easier for them.
Uncle Noel: It builds a better relationship too. We’ve developed a good relationship with community. They can see all the other help they can get here.