September 20, 2011

AUSTRALIA: The world takes note

SYDNEY, NSW / Australian Aging Agenda / News / September 20, 2011

By Yasmin Noone

One of the Australia’s most renowned and respected providers of aged care services for the homeless, Wintringham, is now in receipt of widespread international recognition having just been awarded the 2011 United Nations Scroll of Honour.

The unanimous decision by UN Habitat to honour Wintringham with one of the six awards for its efforts in housing and serving the needs of older disadvantaged adults marks a double first – not only is it the first time an Australian organisation has ever taken out the top title but no aged care provider anywhere in the world has ever won the crown.

The Habitat awards, launched by the UN Human Settlements Programme in 1989, are said to be the most prestigious human settlements awards in the world.

They aim to acknowledge initiatives which have made outstanding contributions in various fields such as shelter provision, highlighting the plight of the homeless, leadership in post conflict reconstruction, and developing and improving the human settlements and the quality of urban life.

Wintringham CEO, Bryan Lippman AM, said he, his staff and everyone involved with the organisation – government ministers and bureaucrats alike – feel incredibly privileged to have received the honour and the international attention that goes with it.

“It’s pretty hard to get that [type of international recognition],” he commented.

“It’s thrilling and great for so many of us. It’s not like we have been going out looking to get this award…The real success is getting these guys off the street.”

A plaque with details of the honour will be presented to Wintringham CEO, Bryan Lipmann AM, during an official presentation ceremony in Mexico on Global Observance of World Habitat Day, October 3, 2011.

Despite winning the award by way of a unanimous decision, Mr Lippman explained that it did in fact come “out of the blue”.

“The [award organisers] contacted me about three or four months ago and told me about the Scroll of Honour and asked if we’d like to apply for it,” he said.

“We didn’t [for a while] as we were busy. At the last minute, we suddenly remembered and shot something off. It wasn’t that we were trawling through [a list of awards to enter]…We didn’t think we had a hope in the world. The elderly homeless don’t get much of a run anywhere.”

In fact, Mr Lippman said he was so “stunned” to win the award that when he received the email containing the good news he “thought it was a hoax”. “I get a lot of dodgy emails…So I actually rang them up [to ask about the email] and they said no no, ‘It’s real’.”

He then went of to describe the moment that he told his wife about the award: “I told her to sit down and I read the letter to her. She just burst into tears.”

Although the news was not enough to make Mr Lippman well up, he admitted to shedding a tear or two when it comes to the work his staff do to transform the lives of the Wintringham residents.

“This award is a wonderful thing but the [moments] that really get me are to do with some the personal stories of the residents.”

Most importantly to Mr Lippman, the win provides further validation that, with a bit of passion, determination and hard work, it is possible to establish a sustainable and financially viable organisation for older, vulnerable people.

“What the [judges] were interested in was that we have redefined elderly homelessness as being about the elderly and accessing aged care, not homelessness dollars.

“We have moved the issue [of homeless older adults] out of the homeless field and into aged care, and in the process have validated the right of the homeless to receive aged care services.

“I think it is just now well and truly accepted by the government that the homeless have a right to aged care services and to the finest quality aged care services.”

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