by Sandra Harben, Cultural Consultant and Research Coordinator, Noongar Mia Mia
This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.
Mainstream housing providers are grounded in Western cultural norms, and their incompatibility with Aboriginal worldviews leads to Aboriginal people being coerced into cultural compromises within the housing sector, either to be offered housing or to remain in their current house. For housing and support to be effective, culture must be front and centre of design and delivery and be valued as a birthright by the western system.
The Noongar Housing First Principles (NHFP) extend upon the Housing First (HF) Principles for Australia and the Noongar Cultural Framework (pages 18 to 20 of this edition). These guiding principles can be used by housing and support providers on Noongar boodja (land, country) to improve cultural effectiveness of services, thus building cultural security within the sector.
The WA 10-Year Strategy on Homelessness highlights mainstream methods ‘are not culturally effective and do not offer long-term solutions for addressing homelessness in Aboriginal communities… Aboriginal culture is a strength, and acts as a protective force for our children and families.’ The status quo fails to recognise the vital role of culture in the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people.
Introducing Noongar Mia Mia
Noongar Mia Mia (NMM) is the largest Aboriginal-ownedand-operated CHP in Noongar country, operating from a community-driven, culturally-secure approach based on cultural understanding and respect. NMM has learned to bridge two worlds to overcome tenancy risks, resulting in an integrated, intergenerational model of culturally-secure housing provision, property management and tenancy support.
As a result of this expertise, NMM was engaged by Shelter WA to develop a set of HF Principles guiding the work of housing and support organisations on Noongar boodja.
For Noongar people, culture is the foundation upon which everything else is built, underpinning all aspects of life including connections to boodja, moort (family, kin, community) and kaartdijin (cultural knowledge).
HF shows promising results on an Australian and international scale; however, Aboriginal homelessness is not the same as mainstream homelessness. Gaetz highlights, ‘questions remain regarding the applicability of Housing First to sub‑populations.’ The HF Principles for Australia’s co-author Leah Watkins identifies the need to develop Aboriginal Housing First principles.
Introducing the Noongar Housing First Principles
By following the Framework and Principles, service providers have a basis from which to understand and respect the cultural housing needs of Noongar people; to practice ongoing cultural learning to become more effective in their work. Cumulatively, this builds capacity in the sector, enabling better tenancy outcomes. For more information, please keep an eye on NMM’s work in this space, with upcoming professional development for the housing and support sectors on how to put these principles into practice.
Principle One: Noongar people and their families have a right to a home with cultural connections to boodja, moort and kaartdijin
Cultural Values: Boodja — Moort —Kaartjin
- Noongar people have immediate access to a permanent, self-contained home which meets their cultural and social needs.
- Noongar people have a right to decide on location based on their cultural and spiritual connection to boodja, moort and kaartdijin.
- The location of homes must also take into account family and cultural dynamics that may impinge on Noongar families being housed in the same vicinity.
- Location, affordability, access to services and quality of property meets the specific needs of the Noongar family being housed. Considerations include safety and connection to kinship/moort community (and for Noongar people with physical disability, maximising their capacity to live independently without being separated from kin.)
- Where possible, negotiate with the family to make it possible to maintain the property during their absence without undue financial stress to the family.
- A home may not just be for a single person. Where other family members/kin also live in a home, they may be added to the tenancy to avoid the remaining family members losing their home if the lead tenant passes away or is absent.
Principle Two: Support is flexible, culturally appropriate and is available whenever it is needed
Cultural Values: Moor and Koort
- Continuity — Support does not have a fixed end date; people can return to or continue support outside of family for as long as needed.
- Collective Well-being — Noongar families are supported holistically by their moort. The cycle of support is never ending. Caseworkers will connect them to their significant family and appropriate services for ongoing support, if the person chooses to be supported in this manner, making use of the strengths of kin as a support network.
- Holistic — The holistic needs of Noongar people (physical, cultural and spiritual) are supported. Support is directed by the people receiving the support, and is available across a wide variety of domains being sensitive to people’s family context and cultural identity.
- The person is informed of the services (both Aboriginal-led and mainstream) available to them and are given choices.
- Accessibility — Noongar people are able to quickly reengage with support without needing to undergo a new assessment or intake process.
- Relationship — Support is built from an authentic relationship from the koort (heart), and it is practical, flexible, creative, respectful, compassionate and kind – responding to each unique set of circumstances as required.
- Continuity — The offer of support is made not only to the primary person, but to all people living under one roof. Even if the primary person is incarcerated or leaves the home, or passes away, or if a tenancy fails, the support services will continue. The support is available to people in their new living situations including a return to homelessness or to an institutional setting where support will actively assist people secure new homes.
Principle Three: Choice and self-determination with no cultural compromise
Boodjar — Moort — Wirrin —Koorndarn
- Noongar people define for themselves what makes a place a home which may include connection to particular moort, particular land or to particular families. Noongar people are given a choice of where they live and the type of housing in which they want to live according to their needs and family makeup.
- Noongar people have a right to choose support that accommodates their needs which may include their extended family members.
- Household — People are able to choose with whom they live, who they invite into their own home and whether visitors are able to stay.
- Person-centred — Support acknowledges that the best way to understand and respond to the needs of Noongar people, is to listen to their views and questions, so that any planning is directly responsive to their particular cultural values, concerns and dreams. This approach respects each individual and that person’s strengths rather than focusing negatively on each person’s limitations.
- Harm Reduction — While acknowledge the impact of alcohol and substance use on people, culture and communities, people will not be shamed or excluded from housing and support because of their use.
Principle Four: Culturally appropriate active engagement through kwop daa
Koort — Koorndarn — Kaarnya— Kwop Daa
- Koorndarn — The onus is on workers to show respect for the people and for their culture. • Kwop Daa — Engage in good talk that is open and honest. While individuals and families can refuse support, staff persist without intruding and use their relationship to make ongoing and regular offers in ways that show care and respect for people and culture.
- Koort — A deep understanding of people, means that support is designed to fit the individual and their moort (kin) rather than the individual being required to fit the service.
- Kaarnya — Workers employ creative and imaginative approaches to ensure their work is engaging rather than blaming people for ‘disengaging’. Our responsibility is to re- engage without blame or shame.
- Availability — Caseloads are small and support is available outside normal working hours. This allows workers to be persistent and proactive in their approach, have time to support the whole family, doing ‘whatever it takes’ within the Noongar cultural framework, and not giving up and closing off when engagement is low.
Principle Five: Support focuses on strengthening wirrin
- Strengthen wirrin to recover a sense of themselves and their place in their community. Strengthens the whole family and their connection to each other, their culture and their land.
- Hope — Support offers hope and actively encourages Noongar people to dream and imagine a future for themselves and allow them to make their own decisions that benefit them, their families and their culture. Towards a future focusing on gaining a sense of purpose with the prospect of enjoying a good and secure life. A healthy, stable home environment and family creates strong wirrin (spirit) for everyone.
- Kaarnya — a process of trial and error involving small steps forward and backward celebrating successful experiences but also learning from experiences of pain and frustration without karnya — a sense of shame.
- Strengths — Celebrating and working with people’s capacity and abilities that are quite separate from any diagnosis they may have. Work together with people towards goals, recognising their unique strengths.
- Appropriate — see each person as an individual, honour culture, and recognise that individuals are all unique and valued.
Principle Six: Social, cultural and community inclusion
Moort — Kaartdijin — Wirrin
- Belonging — Social, cultural and community inclusion is an integral part of support as it rebuilds a sense of self and connection to others, which in turn is a protective factor for people’s tenancy, health and well-being, recognising that wellbeing is collective. Encourage opportunities to practice culture and reconnect with cultural knowledge and pride. Understand that belonging is not only to family, but to land.
- Relationships — Support people to build friendships and relationships within their community, and where possible to reconnect with family, culture and those who are important to them. Respect cultural values and protocols.
- Participation — Support people to participate in a wide range of pursuits including education, employment and volunteering opportunities as well as cultural, artistic and recreational activities.
- Understand that mainstream interventions and organisations may not be fit for purpose and listen to community voices about suitable alternatives.
- Workers should be aware of when key cultural activities occur in the community. They should facilitate and encourage people to link into community, to connect with culture through participating in art activities, events and community organisations, etc.
- Community — Homes exist as part of a community. Support not only helps people connect to that community, but also uses strategies to build acceptance amongst neighbours of people with different experiences, lifestyles, and appearances.
Case Study 1. WIRRIN — Cultural driver for relocation: Family’s spiritual connection to Midland area
The family has a strong belief that the Noongar wirrin — spirits gets angry with them when they have had to leave their cultural boodja — land/area to live elsewhere. They were given accommodation out of their cultural boodja and the tenancy failed. There was feuding with other families and they believed this was a result of the ‘wirrin’ being karrung — angry that they had left their ancestral grounds and it was the kwop wirrin — good spirits way of calling them back to the Midland area. The family say that when they are in Midland ‘everyone is happy’. They feel mentally strong and they believe that the kwop wirrin — good spirits are glad that they have come home to their rightful place in Whadjuk oodja — country.
Case Study 2. KOORT — Cultural driver for caring: A 47-year old Yamatji female from Geraldton
How long have you been homeless?
Over five years and sleeping rough and couch surfing.
Where have you been staying?
In and out of hotels, living on the streets and to tent city. I was at Hostel G for about three and a half months until I got supported by Kenny Latham from Noongar Mia Mia to get into stable accommodation. Stay off the drugs get back on my feet medically, spiritually and holistically to deal with my issues.
Help from NMM?
Yes, it has a very intensive support compared to before Kenny started. Kenny has taken me to medical appointments, setting up counselling with Wungening assisting me with RUAH and just daily tasks. I have a bad back and the support that Kenny has given me is a god send. Kenny visits me every day at my unit; he is my only allowed visitor, and it does get lonely in the unit all alone. Kenny listens to my concerns. He will support me when I get my unit for the first six months. It is good that we have an Aboriginal worker who understands our ways and is up with our mob. I would recommend NMM to all our mob as it is a valuable service that is doing something for us.
Case Study 3. Boodja, Morrt and Kaartdijin — Cultural drivers for connection to country and knowledge of people and family
An Aboriginal man had great connections with family. He grew up near the City Farm and had all his family and extended family around him while growing up.
He has fond memories of the area. His family was moved on by government out to Bull Paddock where there were a lot of other Noongar and Aboriginal families. It was like tent city there.
After many of his family members moved on or passed away he was left an orphan at 15 years of age. He was in and out of care and then eventually moved on to find his own home’. He ended at St Bart’s for homeless men. He chose to stay at St Bart’s because it was built on the land where he grew up with his family before they were moved on.
He says he has a strong cultural connection to the area and feels ‘at home’ and it stimulates his fond memories of family and reminds him of the cultural knowledge that was shared with him by family and other moort.
Kenyak Yeye — that’s enough for now. I hope you will follow my future work in sharing Noongar voices and stories about housing, and demonstrating how these Principles can be put into action by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers alike.
This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.
This week is National Reconciliation Week 2022, with the theme Be Brave. Make Change – a challenge to all Australians to be brave in tackling the business of reconciliation so that we can make change for the benefit of all Australians. Learn more about National Reconciliation Week.