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Diane Kargas, General Manager, Philanthropy Matters, 20 November 2015

Almost everyone regardless of income, age, available time and skills can do something useful for others and, in the process, strengthen the fabric of our shared community.

This quote, I’m sure, is true for each of you and I hope you are a little challenged to ask more about what you can do to build the social structure of this wonderful Museum, and Canberra, and the region more widely. Thank you again for inviting me here today. [applause]

QUESTION: It’s not so much a question it’s more a statement just to say: Di, I met you in 2002 when I came back to Canberra when you were Public Trustee. It was a great honour for me to become involved with you on GreaterGood and to learn from you and to develop my philanthropic thoughts, which I thought I was doing really well with. I have learnt so much from you. You have been very inspiring.

One of the things that I remember you saying early on was simply - one of the things we learnt - that people need to be asked. One of the things I’ve learnt with you. We’re going on a journey, and the most important thing is someone saying, ‘What journey do you want to go on? How can we go on that journey together? What can we achieve?’ Just listening to you again reminded me of many things I learnt from you and with you on the journey we’ve been on. Thank you.

DIANE KARGAS: Thank you. [applause]

CATRINA VIGNANDO: Does anyone else have any questions at this stage?

DIANE KARGAS: Everyone is contemplating the future -

QUESTION: Diane, I see many beggars in Canberra, especially around Civic and the shopping malls in Woden and Belconnen. Other than putting a coin or two in their collection box, what else can I do?

DIANE KARGAS: It’s a really hard thing. When I went on the journey for Common Ground, my original thought was that there are 28 people who sleep really rough in Canberra every night - there are 28 that are known to government. There are nearly 2,000 that we know sleep rough but we don’t quite know where they are. The ones in town, their needs are so complex that putting them in a house wouldn’t work. So government in its own way supports them in the community.

I have given up giving money. What I do is I chat to them - not every time I go to town - and I often say, ‘Would you like a coffee or would you like a hamburger?’ And I will take them something. I think some of the people who beg in town actually have incomes, and it’s really hard to know are you doing the right thing. For some, it’s a conversation; for some, I get food.

A little story: when I was Public Trustee, there’s an organisation, a tribunal for the guardianship and management of property. I as Public Trustee was given an order to take care of a man on the streets, put him in a home, look after his money and get him back on track. Now I met this man, and it clearly was not what he wanted. It took me a long time to work with this man. He couldn’t come in to my office because he was claustrophobic about going in a lift. Nobody asked him: What did he want? We just made an order that said we know what he wants.

So sometimes we have to ask a question about: What can I do to help? If it is that they need a service, then find out what those services might be and come back another time with ‘Here is a phone number that might help you.’ It’s very hard. But I think we are in Canberra starting to make a difference. Common Ground is a great start. I get phone calls saying, ‘When are we going to get one on the north side?’ or ‘When are we going to get one in Tuggeranong?’ I hope soon, but they all cost a lot of money. I’m not sure if that answers fully your question, but it’s very hard. I think just caring for them as best we can is good, saying hello.

QUESTION: I would like to know the proportion of your homeless that you deal with who would be regarded as minors. I was really shocked a while ago to hear there are children as young as 12 who are homeless in Canberra. Do you have special programs for them to be differentiated from the adults?

DIANE KARGAS: Government looks at homelessness. We have a minister who looks after homelessness in the ACT and there is one at the Commonwealth level at well. The Common Ground model looks from age 18 onwards, and of the 46 residents they start from 18 and the oldest is 68. Some of the residents - there are lots of videos on YouTube, and there is one about Common Ground now that it’s working. One of the older residents is beautifully dressed. She is just the most beautiful lady but to hear her story, you think: how can we let this happen?

With the Common Ground model we have some young women. The mix is nearly half and half women and men. In fact, I think we might have a couple more women, which I think is amazing. One of the young women - her apartment is next to one of the older women - she said to me, ‘For the first time in my life I have a mother and a grandmother all in one.’ I get all teary when I think about some of the stories. We’re making a drip in the bucket but we’re making the drip bigger. Yes, children are a real worry.

QUESTION: Do you have access or knowledge to what percentage of the homeless in the ACT would have mental health problems? And does that then mean it’s hard to find a resolution for them as far as finding a home?

DIANE KARGAS: I don’t have those figures off the top of my head, but my experience is most of them would have very complex mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues. Richard, who you saw on the film, if you watch Richard’s journey through the three videos, he talks about trying to go on a bus. So he says, ‘I walk everywhere because people will think I’m smelly on the bus and I’d offend people so I won’t catch a bus.’ He has had lots of mental health issues.

Through our videos, he got accommodation, and I was so pleased. He came to one of the launches of the videos up at Parliament House. He looked fantastic; I was so proud; he was so proud; and he had new clothes on. Then a few weeks later I hardly recognised him in town and I said, ‘Richard what’s wrong?’ He said, ‘I’m safer on the streets. Where I am there’s drugs, alcohol and it’s really rough. I’m better on the street.’ Again, that says to me Common Ground is the way forward, because residents are supported with whatever they need. It’s not a program that everyone has to go to cooking or everyone has to go and have literacy or financial skills; it’s set. For each individual there’s a program developed around how they want to contribute, not you must contribute. But yes, there are some very complex issues that we deal with, even in Common Ground.

QUESTION: Thank you for your inspiring talk this morning. I really resonate with your saying it’s very difficult to decide what to do. Lots of us retire in Canberra and feel so privileged and think ‘We’ve got a whole third of our lives left, what will I do with it?’ You’ve certainly made me think about it.

One of the concerns I have about homelessness at the moment I would like you to comment on is the phenomenon of older women who are not living on the street but they’re actually homeless because they ‘couch surf’ as it’s called. I hadn’t thought about that until recently. Can you talk about that as an issue and what’s being done?

DIANE KARGAS: It’s a huge issue in Canberra. I’m actually starting a conversation - or I actually haven’t started the conversation, Elizabeth Dawson started the conversation - because a number of years ago homelessness and women weren’t captured in any of the statistics and census because women wouldn’t put their hand up to say, ‘This is me,’ because it was just so embarrassing for them. But now we are collecting data. The data we’ve got is quite new.

Women will sleep in cars. Danielle [from the film] used to sleep in her car with her six children. Danielle had a very severe stroke, and I lost track of her after she was released from hospital. She was in hospital for six months because there was nowhere to put her – again, another damning statistic. But there’s a group of women – we might encourage a few men to come on board - at the moment who are actually talking about older women and where are we going to house them? How are we going to look after them? Because they are still falling through the cracks. That conversation is happening. There will be a time when I’ll have a bit more around it that I will probably get Hands across Canberra to put on its website for people to have a look at. There’s a couple of great women that are now looking specifically at what do we do to help older women, because by and large our super isn’t good enough.

Last night on television was about elder abuse for older people. Let me tell you in my public trustee experience I saw it a lot and worked very hard to get the elder abuse phoneline set up. I think women, we’ve got a lot to think about and protect ourselves against.

QUESTION: Thank you for your talk. I recall back during the bushfire time in Canberra there was a great outpouring of concern - people who had resources for people who had been so badly threatened - lost - through the fires. My concern was that this great outpouring of funds was going to the people who had recently experienced the bushfires and that was diverting money away from the poor and the needy in the community who were always with us.

I recall going down to St Vinnies to make a donation he said, ‘Oh, you’ve come to give to the bushfire.’ And I said, ‘No. I want to specifically say it is not to go to the bushfire, it is to go to your ongoing programs.’ They commented then that they have to take so much of their resources from the ordinary background maintenance role for these ‘emergencies’ - what I call in geographic terms the lumpy flows. Does any of your work work towards trying to even out those lumpy flows to make sure that the ordinary everyday disadvantaged are not neglected when there is this great outpouring of grief?

DIANE KARGAS: It’s always going to happen. When there is a disaster, wherever it is, that it sparks people’s need to help. So yes, that will always happen. What I try to do is make the cake bigger. We have one charitable cake, as I call it, in Canberra and, as I have said, some of us haven’t been asked yet about - you actually want to give but we haven’t asked you what you want to give it. My idea is that, if we make that cake bigger and organisations like Hands across Canberra and GreaterGood get donors to actually put perpetual funds away for organisations that do great work in and around our region, they do become sustainable on the ground. Or it gives them capacity to take on a new role they have not been able to do before, like Marymead runs a mentoring program for young women with disabilities. It could be Karinya House runs a special house for mums and children. If we can make that cake bigger we can actually grow what we do in our region. It’s the ask that we need to get out there that says Canberra is really worth supporting, and we are not as privileged as people around Australia think we perhaps are. But all those lumpy things called disasters are always going to drain any charity. It’s just the way it is - sadly. But let’s make the cake bigger.

CATRINA VIGNANDO: I think that’s a lovely note to think about and to end on. I’d like you all to join me again in thanking Diane again for her incredibly inspiring talk. [applause]

CATRINA VIGNANDO: We record those talks they are on our website. If you have Friends who you think would like or think they would enjoy hearing those have been unable to be here please direct them to our website. Can I invite you to come on down to the Friends launch talking about cake of a different kind. Come down and join us for refreshments have tea and cake in the Friends lounge. You can talk to Diane more personally about any of your other questions you have. Thank you for coming today for our final Landmark Women for the year.

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Date published: 14 December 2015

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