Wayss Voice February ’22


Applying innovative solutions to address family violence and homelessness.

Welcome from our Acting CEO


I’m currently Acting CEO at Wayss – filling in for our newly appointed CEO Wayne Merritt who is due to commence with Wayss in late March. Please refer to our Chair, Cath Evan’s comments about Wayne below.

My usual role with Wayss is that of General Manager Corporate Services, a position I’ve held in its various incarnations for in excess of four and a half years. During this time I’ve been continually surprised not only by the change but the rate of change in our organisation.

I am amazed at the adaptability and resilience of our staff to the changes in the way we perform our work. I’m very proud of the efforts of all staff – they have done and continue to do a wonderful job, sometimes under very trying circumstances.

This month’s newsletter provides some insights into some of the work Wayss does providing critical housing support in the Southeast metropolitan area, and more specifically in providing emergency accommodation, supporting youth into safe housing and people in their social housing tenancies.

I hope you find the content below of interest.

Bryan Madden

New CEO to bring values-based leadership skills to Wayss

Last month the Wayss Board announced that Wayne Merritt has been appointed as the new CEO of Wayss and will start in March.

Wayne is an experienced values-based leader with over 20 years’ experience in the community services sector. After beginning his career on the front line working directly with vulnerable young people, Wayne has embraced a range of diverse roles including direct service delivery and leading large and multi-faceted teams to bring effective support to marginalised communities.

Wayne is currently General Manager – Homelessness and Family Services at Melbourne City Mission.  He is looking forward to bringing his broad experience in leadership and people management, policy and governance, strategic and financial planning and service development and integration to Wayss as we continue our journey in transforming the services we offer and continue to build the impact we can have in the intersecting streams of homelessness and family violence.

We look forward to Wayne joining Wayss next month and guiding the organisation through the challenges that face our sector. During the short period until Wayne starts, Bryan Madden will be acting CEO.

As a Board we are extremely confident that Wayss will have very strong and positive leadership going forward. We are very much looking forward to the next chapter of Wayss growth as we continue to make a positive impact in the lives of our some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Cath Evans
Board Chair

Professional, responsive, respectful, and ethical support for social housing tenants

Wayss manages around 450 properties for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Our housing stock consists of crisis and short-term housing, rooming houses and medium to long term housing and supports up to 500 renters and their families.

Many of our renters come from extremely challenging backgrounds and traumatic experiences to live in our properties. New renters are chosen from priority lists made up of people facing a range of complex and interweaving social challenges including family violence, mental health issues, alcohol and drug abuse and homelessness – people who would otherwise struggle to find safe, secure housing.

Wayss has a dedicated Property Services division to support these vulnerable individuals and families to have the best experience possible, ensuring they are provided with professional, responsive, respectful, and ethical services and that all properties are safe, meet appropriate standards and are well maintained, as well as being accessible for all diverse demographic groups, including LGBTIQ, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and people with disabilities, of all ages.

Wayss works in partnership with a large number of specialist support agencies to support our renters in short term and crisis housing to transition to longer term housing options including private rental and public housing. Together we work with our renters to help them find employment (as appropriate) and connect with other support services such as financial counselling.

Seeking sustainable solutions

Across the state of Victoria there is just not enough affordable housing stock for people on low incomes, especially those who are dependent on government benefits. Wayss’ extensive experience working on the front line tells us that a key part of the solution to the complex problem is to invest in increasing the amount of housing stock on offer, including affordable and social housing. Investing in social housing has multiple benefits for the community and the economy. 

Research commissioned by Everybody’s Home shows that if the Government invested $7.6 billion in 16,800 additional social housing units it would help support women and children leaving family violence and also create $15.3 billion in economic benefits and 47,000 new jobs.

Wayss is therefore continually on the lookout for opportunities to increase access to social housing in our region either through partnership arrangements with philanthropic, commercial organisations and local government and through various government funding programs such as the Victorian Government’s Big Housing Build program. This is also a key priority under our 2021 – 2024 Strategic Plan. We also provide input into government and sector policy through our involvement in various sector groups and housing reviews.

Meanwhile, working with our valued sector partners and supported by our community we will continue providing critical housing support for vulnerable individuals and families in Melbourne’s  Southern Region.

Positive news for families in emergency accommodation

In October last year the Victorian Government announced the Homes for Families (H4F) initiative, allocating an additional $66 million to provide up to 250 eligible families across Victoria with safe, stable and secure accommodation along with tailored wrap around support to exit emergency accommodation they had been placed into as part of the pandemic response.  

The funding will ensure up to 400 children and their caregivers state-wide are fast-tracked into a safe and stable home. These families will be supported to stay in emergency accommodation until an appropriate housing exit is identified.  

Wayss identified 21 eligible families for the initial 150 Priority 1 (P1) places to be allocated state-wide in the program. Many of these families have been in emergency accommodation since the start of the pandemic, experiencing cramped, stressful conditions for far longer than was ever intended.

All 21 families have been approved for a P1 package and they will next go to a panel for housing allocation through EACH, the housing partner of the initiative for the south east region of Melbourne.

The obvious challenge will be finding properties to match the families’ needs, however we anticipate all families will exit motel accommodation towards the middle or end of 2022.  

After this they will be supported with subsidised rent and wrap around support services while preparing for long term, secure housing. So this is their first step on the road to a safe and stable home.

We are sure we will have some happy families moving out of motel accommodation very soon. 

A new approach to supporting young people into safe housing

Young people come to Wayss for support having experienced a range of challenges including family violence and other trauma, intergenerational disadvantage, financial difficulties and a lack of affordable housing. The common thread is that they are all struggling to find and stay in a safe, secure home.

The housing support we provide to young people needs to be responsive to their particular needs and the stage of life that they’re in. It also needs to focus not just on the problems they’re facing, but also their opportunities to improve their lives. This is where Advantaged Thinking comes in.

The Advantaged Thinking framework was developed in the UK in 2009 and has been applied in various Australian settings since 2013. Put simply, the framework aims to build on the strengths and skills that young people have to focus on aspirational outcomes – acknowledging their challenges but also instilling belief in them and building on their talents and assets.

This framework aims to build a trusting coaching partnership between workers and young people and requires connecting them to resources and opportunities (including safe and secure housing) that will support them to thrive in the future.

“Wayss has recently begun implementing the Advantaged Thinking framework across all of our programs for young people to help improve outcomes for those young people who come to us for support,” says Hannah Venables, who is leading the project.

“With three different types of housing support for young people across our portfolio, Wayss is in a unique position to apply this new approach. We have crisis accommodation, transitional housing and also supported residential care through our Step Ahead program.

“Not many organisations have that breadth of options. Here we have the potential to have a flow through the various types of housing. We can help young people get from a crisis point to a calm point, then also support them with that next step of stability, whether through Step Ahead or transitional housing, with the aim of achieving independence in sustainable long term housing.”

As Wayss progresses its work in applying this sophisticated evidence-based framework to our services for young people, we would like to sincerely thank the Brotherhood of St Laurence for their support in training our team to build the knowledge and skills to apply Advantaged Thinking across our programs.

It’s through partnerships and skills sharing like this that we can achieve great things as a sector and support our young people to have the best possible chance to find a safe secure home.

Note: while the Advantaged Thinking framework can be captured in its overarching principals, it is supported by evidence based research and practice. For more information, please visit the Brotherhood’s website here:

Shantalle’s story 

In 2016 Shantalle and her mum were living in a private rental property. They both live with diabetes, and on top of that Shantalle lives with a visual impairment (she is legally blind) and she also has physical limitations including being a dialysis patient. They were both living on a disability pension yet both pensions combined barely covered the rent.

“The cost of the rent was almost the same as our combined pensions,” says Shantalle. “So we were constantly wondering whether to pay the rent or feed ourselves. It was quite stressful because we were backed up in our bills, and we were backed up in our rent as well. And being diabetics it was hard to go without food in order to pay the rent.”

“We didn’t know what we were going to do. It was looking like we would need to go to a rooming house or a shelter. But that wouldn’t have been so good for mum as she had lots of health issues.”

In 2018, they found help via homelessness and housing service Launch Housing to come into a Wayss property, a three bedroom house in Dandenong.

“It was such a relief to move away from that place where it was just so stressful to live being uncertain what would happen,” says Shantalle.

Sadly, Shantalle’s mum passed away last year. Shantalle continues to live in the property. As Shantalle’s support agency Launch Housing provides her with wrap around support and Wayss manages tenancy issues with the property itself.

“I was quite stressed after mum passed away because I thought I would have to leave, but Launch Housing told me I could stay. They are looking for a one bedroom unit or flat for me, I have been told many times that I can stay here until something suitable comes up for me. So that gives me security and reduces my anxiety.”

Shantalle pays affordable rent for the property that has been calculated so it is manageable for her even on her own and living on the disability pension.

“I have felt really well supported by Wayss while I have been living here. Whenever there is an issue with the property I can contact Wayss and they sort it out with no stress.”

Tenancy Plus – supporting tenants in public housing to stay in their homes

The Tenancy Plus program is funded by the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) to support individuals and families across Victoria who are living in social housing to stabilise their tenancies that are at risk or establish a new tenancy.

Wayss is the Tenancy Plus provider for the catchments of the Dandenong Housing Office and the Frankston Housing Office. These catchments cover around 6000 properties across the LGAs of Greater Dandenong, Casey, Cardinia, Frankston, Mornington Peninsula and a small section of Kingston. Wayss has been providing this service since 2006.

“Tenancy Plus helps prevent homelessness by supporting renters in social housing to stay in their homes,” says Serena Fonseka, Team Leader at Wayss Tenancy Plus. “Helping individuals and families to be able to stay in their homes prevents the dislocation, stress and trauma of facing homelessness and having to find a new home.”

There are four key reasons why the tenancies of renters in social housing might be put at risk:

  • Difficulties paying rent
  • Poor condition of the property, inside or outside, due to actions of the renter
  • Neighbourhood disputes
  • Safety issues, such as family violence or danger from another external non-related party. 

In the last six months of 2021, Wayss Tenancy Plus program supported 114 new clients who came to us for support in stabilising their tenancies or establishing new ones in public housing. This support covered everything from managing simple maintenance issues and negotiating rent issues with the Housing Office through to more detailed, longer term case management support such as ongoing issues with the rent, working to keep individuals and families safe or serious neighbourhood disputes.

“Early identification is really important,” says Serena. “If we can assist someone before their situation gets too hard to manage they have a far better chance of having a positive outcome and staying in their homes.”

The last two years of the pandemic have brought many challenges to the program.

“The restrictions have meant lack of access to clients for face to face work. This makes it harder to properly assess issues with properties, and some clients, especially our older clients, miss that face to face contact. Around a quarter of our clients are over 55 and many of them have found it quite challenging.”

“Both our team and our clients have had to adapt. While it has made things more complicated in some ways we have still managed to sustain our success rate of maintaining tenancies at pre-pandemic levels. I’m proud that the team has been able to flex and pivot while continuing to support individuals and families to keep a roof over their heads and live safely and securely.” 

Ken’s journey to a stabilised social housing tenancy and increased wellbeing

Ken is over 80 years old and comes from a multicultural background. He was living alone in a social housing property, isolated from his family, when he was referred to Wayss’ Tenancy Plus team. Ken’s Housing Support Officer from the Office of Housing had visited the property and seen the mess Ken was living in and the poor condition of the garden.

On top of that he had no washing machine and no fridge. He had a rusty old freezer in his garage, but it didn’t work. Yet it was full of expired, decomposing and rank smelling seafood that Ken had been saving “for the government” – an indication that Ken’s mental health was deteriorating.

The Wayss Tenancy Plus worker and Office of Housing worker arrived at Ken’s place with an interpreter and tried to explain who they were and how they could help. But Ken did not initially trust them. It took several visits and use of different translation techniques – including use of Google translator – before Ken accepted our support, and even after that, in addition to displaying their Wayss ID cards, our workers always wore a Wayss T-shirt for face-to-face interactions with Ken to reassure him that they were part of a legitimate, trustworthy service.

Working in collaboration with the Office of Housing and EACH Housing <<link to>>, Wayss connected Ken to a local GP who speaks his language and helped him access an aged care support package through the Australian Government that included ongoing care in his home from a worker who also spoke his language.

We also organised a full industrial clean of the property including removal of the seafood from the freezer by trauma cleaners, installing a new fridge and washing machine and engaging an ongoing gardening service.

During the cleaning process Ken also packed up and disposed of 20 bags of rubbish and other items that had been building up over the years.

Working with Ken was a complex and time consuming process as most of the work occurred during the pandemic and Ken continued to be cautious about accepting support. The whole process took almost a year. However eventually Ken grew to trust the Wayss team to the point that one day he showed our worker a family photo of happy smiling faces. Ken had reconnected with his siblings who had visited him at his home.

Not only had Tenancy Plus helped Ken stabilise his tenancy: we had also helped him rebuild connections with his family and his community. Ken is now much happier and feels supported as he enjoys his twilight years in his clean, well maintained home.

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Wayss in the 1990s

Then in September 1997 the organisation became WAYSS Limited with a Board of Directors and day to day management by the Chief Executive Officer.

Wayss underwent further transformation with the restructure of community housing and the funding of the Transitional Housing Management (THM) program. The Regional Housing Council ceased operation and transferred direct service operations to Wayss in 1997.

During this decade Wayss became responsible for the then South East Women’s Domestic Violence Outreach Service. Funding was also received to establish a Children’s Services Worker within the outreach service. SAAP funded Women’s Outreach Program was also transferred to Wayss in 1999.