A Bonza Carmel Hurst OAM

29 / 04 / 2016

Carmel Hurst OAM is an extraordinary Australian woman. Among her many life achievements, she has spent close to the past twenty years building the Homeshare Program in Victoria. Carmel visited us at the Trust recently and we realized pretty much straightaway that a Bonza Sheila had just walked through the door! Here Carmel reflects on her motivation and commitment to what she sees as a  simple but powerful concept of homesharing. Interview by Mary Crooks, Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust. 

Click here to find out more about HANZA – Homeshare Australia & New Zealand Alliance. 

Mary Crooks (MC): So tell us, Carmel, give us your take of the HomeShare program, the essence of it.

Carmel Hurst (CH): The idea basically is that for some older people, and for some people with disability it is important to their feeling of security to have someone around.  It’s a program that brings together older householders or younger householders with a disability who could benefit from help in the home and companionship, with mature people of integrity prepared to lend a hand in return for affordable accommodation. In this way, Homeshare is a perfect exchange, everyone contributes something. It is a mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationship. There is no rental economic transaction but rather a splitting of some utilities costs. It is a shared housing arrangement based on the barter system.

MC: So can you give me an example, a real life example, of say a young person staying with an older person, or person with a disability with another person.

CH: I have lots of lovely stories for that. One of the nicest is the young Chinese boy who was staying with an old man. And eventually the old man died after quite a long time. Another feature of Homeshare is that families can be involved. When the old man died, the young boy took the family of the old man to China to meet his family, and they had a holiday together. And subsequent to that, when we came back, he was matched with another lady as he still wanted to do another Homeshare.

MC: Is it a program mainly relating to women?

CH: Yes, yes. It’s was mostly women when it was still early. Most homeshares were of the women.

HANZA

MC: What sort of screening process do you employ?

CH: We’ve got to be very careful because we would just need one thing to go wrong for it to collapse. The essence of our Homeshare is a matching process to provide a safe environment for any people who wish to share. So the processes around that first of all: assessment of applicants, both homesharer and householder, then matching being very careful and then monitoring everything. So what happens is if a householder wants us to find someone, we look at the house and the other person, we have questionnaires and checks. They have to be able to share their house. They have to be able to provide suitable accommodation.

MC: As long as you’ve been connected to Homeshare, how many people have been matched up?

CH: Couldn’t possibly tell you, it’s all over Australia now. It would run into hundreds and hundreds. It does take some time to set up because the screening process and matching is done with great care.

MC: What keeps you motivated? You were awarded an Order of Australia Medal for your work with Homeshare. What is about the program  that still excites you and makes you still want to be involved?

CH: It’s such a good idea. It’s a very simple concept but it’s hard to put in place, it’s very hard to get money. But it works.

MC: So there’s a big voluntary component?

CH: Yes but we do have some funding from the State Government. We have three programs that are working and funded.

MC: And how long have you personally been involved?

CH: Since 1997. I came across it when I was at an Age International Conference in Adelaide in 97.

MC: And how many hours a week do you reckon you put in?

CH: It depends. Probably 5 or 6. Sometimes a lot more.

MC: So what were you doing before you became involved in Homeshare?

CH: I was teaching nurses. I’m a nurse. You could see as I was caring for people that there was this need.  and you could see very well how this would work so really I saw it and I knew this was a very smart idea.

MC: So if you could wave a magic wand as far as Homeshare  and its wider promotion, what would you like to see happen?

CH: I’d like to see the sliced bread concept take hold, that is, if everyone knew about Homeshare, they would definitely fund it, I guarantee it, because you know you can see what we’re talking about. It’s cheap to run.

MC: You say that it is tricky promoting the scheme more widely. How come?

CH: Good news is really hard to spread. When you think about anything that’s a good story, it’s very hard.

MC: So has anybody done a cost/benefit?

CH: Yes, the Henderson Foundation did a cost benefit analysis which showed it was a very, very sensible thing to do – such as in permitting a woman to remain living independently in her home compared to being in a nursing home.

MC: Apart from the time that you put in homesharing, can you tell us a bit more about your other interests? We know that you’ve been a nurse, and that you’ve taught nursing. What else spurs you on? What else has spurred you on in your life? What drives you?

CH: Oh I’m going to do something really awful. I need to do something disgraceful and discreditable.  (mischievous laughter). Seriously though, there is a program where we look after a tiny little bloody school in Timor. The government hasn’t got up to it yet, they haven’t got anything in the mountains yet, they just can’t. So we’re teaching a teacher;  we supply uniforms and books and things to the school, to the kids and I’m going up there again in October.

MC: And what will you do when you’re there?

CH: Quite a few things, including a conference of friendship groups around Australia who are going, and to see the kids in the school and give them lollies and drinks and books.

MC: How many kids are in the little school?

CH: Well we are sort of expanding a bit, so we now have about 4 schools, but the original school has about 40 kids in it. The biggest one has a couple of hundred.

MC: Carmel, a final question – if you could have three or four people around your table at a very special dinner who would you invite?

CH: Oh that’s a tough question. Can I think about it?

MC: No, off the top of your head.

CH: My friends it would have to be, my close friends. Then I would like Geraldine Doogue, Penny Wong and Julia Gillard!

For more information about the Homeshare Program, go to: www.homeshare.org.au

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