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The properties of grace

David EldridgeEdward Britton, the late British teacher and trade union leader, famously suggested that ‘compassion comes from the heart, not the government’. 

For The Salvation Army, a church with social programs that often contracts to perform social services for governments, the balancing of compassion and contractual obligations can be challenging, and in no sector is that more demonstrably true than in housing. 

e-connect talks to the Australia Southern Territory’s new Salvation Army Housing/Salvation Army Housing Victoria CEO Mark Dall and the SAH/SAHV board chair Major David Eldridge AM.

e-connect: Gentlemen, what is the main distinction between Salvation Army Housing and Salvation Army Housing Victoria?

Major David Eldridge: SAH is the overall body that will manage the territory’s social housing properties; SAHV has a legal, contractual arrangement with Victoria’s Department of Health and Housing.  

Mark Dall: In Victoria, that means SAHV manages 640 properties all up, on behalf of the government.

Mark, you are a veteran operator in the sector and new to The Salvation Army; what do you see SAH and SAHV bringing to the table for people who need a roof over their heads?

MD: SAH across the territory and SAHV have an opportunity to develop innovative and targeted opportunities that will help to change lives for the better.

DE: We are extremely fortunate to have Mark’s experience, ability and success, in both the government and private sectors, to enable us to meet our obligations and pursue our mission. In both bodies the territory will work diligently to achieve its responsibilities as a housing provider and look to improve opportunities for our clients. 

Where do we start to improve opportunities for our clients?

MD: I have learnt over the years to deal with the human condition first and foremost as a priority, we project solutions when we follow that focus.

DE: People live in houses. All of Mark’s work with governments and the sector has been undertaken while fully conscious of the fact that houses are homes, not just properties. Homes provide stability and connections. We want that to be our benchmark – providing our clients with a strong sense of community and a sense of pride; self-respect.

MD: We can look at the excellent conditions that the elite reside in; well, I believe that homeless people deserve the same if not more. Why wouldn’t we want our clients to have a quality home, where they can live with safety and dignity, a modicum of privacy and comfort and peace? The most vulnerable people are the most deserving of this, in my opinion.

DE: In terms of scope and ability, it is worth remembering that Mark successfully delivered the nation building project that grew out of former PM Rudd’s white paper – that was 6,500 homes conceived and built over 2.5 years through a $1.5 billion budget. That is a significant and historic achievement.

MD: I often cite the Kensington Public Housing redevelopment as a great example of what can be done as a place-based response that went beyond ‘just’ property. We worked with a school and tenants to provide 600 cutting edge apartments, with a high degree of technical know-how and market-leading materials. It was a self-funding model that was researched as and after it happened by Melbourne University.

How do you describe The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory’s commitment to the housing sector?

MD: It has been a painful birth for SAH and SAHV, with a separation of power and money. We have made and are making a rapproachment to our housing staff across the territory.

There is also, it should be noted, a deeply symbiotic relationship with housing and the greater raft of Salvation Army services that are offered holistically and interconnectedly, throughout the territory.

It is by joining forces and working in a consistent and united manner that we give our targeted client group the best, optimal chance of normalisation. We can see lives transformed for the better.

The first board meeting for SAH/SAHV is scheduled for 27 August.
– Barry Gittins

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