Welcome to Week 29

Welcome to Week 29 of 40 stories in 40 Weeks.  This week we return to another extract of our History co-authored by Sarah Harris and Don Baker, in which 20-year veteran of the organisation, Kent Fury, recalls the very early days of working within the homeless sector. 

There probably aren’t many bosses who show their appreciation for you by telling you to jump off a cliff, Fury agrees. “Back in those days there weren’t any monetary bonuses – there wasn’t any money at all really and it was Ken’s (Marchingo) way of rewarding us,” Fury recalls. “He would do things like take us abseiling to Melville Caves or over to Echuca for a trip on a paddle-steamer. That was his way of saying thank you and it was really personal. He was there with us. Now he doesn’t have the time. He is all over the place and spends half his life on the road. I do miss the intimacy of those days when whoever got in first would line up the cups and make the coffee and then we’d all sit on the steps and Ken would ask: ‘OK guys, what is on the agenda today’?”

As one of Haven’s longest-serving hands, Fury knows better than most just how far the organisation has come. “I started back in August 1996 during the crossover from Bendigo Emergency Housing to Loddon Mallee Housing Association,” Fury recalls. “My very first job was as a receptionist/admin worker. Prior to 1997 we didn’t even have an accountant so I would do the lead-up to the bookwork from this draughty desk at the top of a staircase and Ken would finish it off. “When Ken first took over Trish Champion was there volunteering. There was a period of two years of just her and Ken and a couple of other bods. As we grew they came to an agreement that Trish would run the day-to-day and Ken would get out there and do the networking, which is what really kicked everything off from ’97-98.

He was smart. He got a very good group of people around him in the early days. We were prepared to do whatever we needed to do to get where we needed to get. “He was always extremely clear about the direction he wanted to take the agency. We had the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program back then and we tendered for the transitional program which came across in 1997. The lead-up was absolutely flat-chat. There were about 20 of us when I started, then suddenly there was this influx of nine extra staff and a Loddon Mallee region with Mildura, Echuca, Swan Hill and Kyneton. “It was so frantic, it was crazy … just the sheer volume of stuff to be done. But it wasn’t work. Everybody was just so driven. It was exciting, we felt privileged. We had this sensational CEO and, certainly for me, there was just something that got into the blood. It was only a little staff and our budget was reflective of that, but we seemed to be able to squeeze so much more out of that and collectively put Ken’s vision out there, his drive out there. He was the steering wheel, we were the wheels to get it where he wanted to go. “You would do all sorts of stuff outside normal work hours, like head out to the little old mudbrick house in Eaglehawk and strip beds and clean up the rooms of whoever was exiting.

One particular time I remember, the Rotary Club had built two houses with a domestic violence nomination. The Minister was coming up to do a grand opening of them and at 10pm the night before there was me and Trish sitting on the floor eating pizza having just furnished the two houses with beds still to be made.

Committed to the cause: Mildura staff member of 15 years, Karen Bailes, with HHS Chair Sue Clarke and 20-year veterans Oystein Sandvik and Kent Fury and, now in his 25th year of service CEO Ken Marchingo AM.

“I remember when we won the Affordable Housing Association accreditation. We were the first registered AHA in Australia and so the accountant and project manager at the time bought Ken AHA001 number plates. He was just so stoked he was lost for words. He was as proud as punch. “That’s when I went over to asset management. At one point I was in charge of 1000 or so properties in terms of their upkeep. My desk was the central point for the whole state and pretty much every phone call and complaint. For urgent and essentials they were meant to call their property manager but every tenant had my direct number, my email, knew my name.

“On any one day there might be 530 things to do on the issues register. You might wipe out 10 or 15 of them a day or a week, but you will add to them during that time. It might be ‘my cupboard door hinge is broken’ versus ‘I have no hot water’. So naturally I put the emphasis on fixing the hot water because we have guidelines and timeframes we have to adhere to from our governing body and RTA (Residential Tenancies Act).

But then I will have this lady yelling at me: ‘Why haven’t you fixed my hinge?’ “One of them rang and said: ‘I want my curtains changed’. I said: ‘What is wrong with the curtains?’ ‘Oh, they clash with my couch’. I said: ‘Well perhaps get a throw rug that matches your curtains’ – that’s a polite way of saying it’s not going to happen lady. Yet people have this sense of expectation, of entitlement. Half the staff live in worse conditions than some of our clients do and that’s as it is. But some of our clients are never satisfied. It’s like: ‘My God, three weeks ago you were living in a car. You now have a brand new house that no one has ever lived in before.’ “But there are those who really appreciate what you are doing.

I remember one client I housed in Kyabram. She was an elderly lady and she just howled. She said: ‘Kent, this is the first home I ever had’. She was just so delighted, so genuinely grateful. That’s what keeps you going.”

Join us next week for our thirtieth instalment of 40 Stories in 40 Weeks, as we remember and celebrate 40 years of Haven; Home, Safe.