Wongee Mia: A best-practice approach to ending homelessness

Wongee Mia is recognised as an international example of a best-practice approach to supporting and sustainably housing First Nations peoples. 

Aboriginal people are ten times more likely to experience homelessness than others in our community. They are also more likely to experience overcrowding, which can contribute to loss of tenancies and returns to homelessness. The Wongee Mia project was established to develop a model that directly addresses these concerns.

The Wongee Mia project works with a single extended Aboriginal family, providing wrap-around support and help to access housing. The family have experienced intergenerational homelessness and poverty. The community support workers hold the whole family as their caseload. Key to the success of this project is an innovative, flexible support approach and an open diary.

The design of the support methods is drawn directly from feedback from family members in yarning sessions, insights from family elders and reflections in action research sessions. The project workers have developed a close working relationship with family members and strong connections to family elders for advice and guidance.

COVID-19 made it difficult to conduct many in-person yarning sessions in the first half of this year. Workers kept in touch by phone and prioritised home visits to family elders as soon as restrictions were lifted. These yarning sessions are critical to informing the design of the model, building the workers’ understanding of the family and culture, and exploring ways elders actively support family members to keep their homes.

At the beginning of the year, the action research team set up yarning sessions with a key family elder to contribute to an article about the project. The outcome of these sessions is a published an article on the innovative model in the International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health. This can be found https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/15/5501/html.

“This is an outstanding paper demonstrating the value of gaining deep understanding of the complexities of a situation through a respectful and empowering action research and service methodologies, placing families at the centre, and shared through clear conceptual frameworks that can be easily understood. The work presented has relevance across many sectors that require urgent transformation in the ways they work that will deliver more effective and sustainable outcomes. I would like to thank all the authors for choosing to submit your excellent paper to this Special Issue.” – IJERPH Editor

The model now stands as an international example of a best-practice approaches to supporting and sustainably housing First Nations peoples.

Through the Grants to End Homelessness program, the Mercy Foundation provided seed funding for this project in 2018 and again in 2020. The grant is funding action research, the participation of Elders in the project and the development of learning kits and training resources, which will be available in 2021.