Principle 7: Services will advocate on behalf of residents

Caravan with plantsPart 8 of a series of posts based on nine principles for supporting permanent residents of caravan parks which are relevant to a range of other contexts. The first post introduces the context and lists the nine principles.

There are caravan parks that have sub-standard living conditions, and are unsafe and poorly maintained. The situation arises whereby marginalised people are able to be exploited due to a lack of any other options. For the typical Family Support Worker the impulse to advocate for the disadvantaged is strong, especially when it appears a profit is being made at their expense. This becomes complicated, however, when the parks are generally private property and the managers have the ultimate right to not allow Playscheme and the Family Support Workers in. They also have the ability to evict “problematic” residents. Further, having a park closed down as it is unsafe, unhygienic, and exploitative may stop that abuse of human rights; however, the homeless and marginalised would have few options left open to them. [1]

Services frequently need to advocate on behalf of residents and it is an important component of work. Advocacy can occur in a number of ways including:

  • Supporting residents in self-advocacy
  • Advocating on behalf of residents to park managers
  • Advocating on behalf of less-powerful residents with other, more powerful, residents
  • Assisting residents to utilise advocacy services (e.g. raising tenancy issues through Tennant Advice and Advocacy Services)
  • Advocating on behalf of a whole park (e.g. in relation to park closures or rent increases)
  • Advocating on behalf of park managers (e.g. in relation to council red tape interfering with park improvements)
  • Advocating on behalf of residents so that they can access goods and services available to the general community (e.g. some residents report difficulties joining video libraries)
  • Raising awareness in the general community about issues facing park residents
  • Systems advocacy, in which the focus is on influencing and changing legislation, policy and practices in ways that will benefit park residents.

The need to maintain positive relationships with park managers (as discussed previously) can create challenges for some services, so it is important to identify ways in which issues can be addressed and change can be facilitated.

Implications for practice include the following:

Staff will have a working knowledge of relevant legislation and know how to use it

We had a lot of trouble here about a year ago, and this woman took the managers to court. All of a sudden we realised that we had more rights than we thought, or knew about. We were always told “If you don’t like the way things are, then move out.” Bessie, 65. [2]

There is a range of legislation and numerous government departments with relevance to caravan parks. Staff need to have a working knowledge of relevant legislation, know where to get more information or support, and be able to use the legislation to support residents. Some states and territories (but not all) have specific tenancy, or more general, legislation relating to caravan parks and manufactured home villages. While the effectiveness of this legislation can vary, it is helpful for staff working in caravan parks to have some basic knowledge of the legislation and be able to assist residents obtain expert advice when required.

At times, services that are dependent on the permission of park management for running programs on site may need to encourage other services (especially tenancy advocacy or advice services) to become more involved.

Staff will assess the risks of advocacy especially when working with less-powerful residents

At times advocacy can bring unintended consequences for the people being assisted. For people who are vulnerable or who have had their power undermined, there can be major negative side effects, and staff need to assess these risks before undertaking advocacy.

In one park visited by our staff every van had the same key so that residents found even going to the showers put them at risk of theft. Dogs were tied to van doors or left inside to guard. Residents reported that a person who complained about the locks had been summarily evicted. [3]

Because of the presence of on-site managers, residents can experience harassment or victimisation from unscrupulous managers if they are perceived as troublemakers. Tenancy services have received reports of selective and preferential application of park rules, and residents being intimidated, harassed, victimised or abused by park managers. It is the residents who run the risk of eviction or being harassed, so before undertaking advocacy, services need to check that residents are aware of potential consequences and ensure they are willing for services to act on their behalf.

Staff will assist residents to advocate on their own behalf

During discussion over coffee at a fairly run-down park, written receipts and leases were raised. A number of residents expressed concern about the practice of the park and we talked about possible ways of discovering their rights. The next week, when we came back to the park we discovered that some of the residents had come together and organised for a Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Service to meet with them.
Community worker

Where possible, residents should be assisted to advocate on their own behalf. At times this may be difficult, particularly when residents are marginalised or face numerous problems in their lives. Strategies can include being a support for residents when they visit another service (e.g. Centrelink, a housing provider) to address problems, assisting them to learn where they can obtain information and advice, building their self-confidence and communication skills, and building social capital and social connections within the park (so that it is easier to address problems within the park).

Parks with long-term permanent residents who own their own dwelling, especially manufactured-home villages, sometimes have residents’ groups who are able to advocate on their own behalf, but this is less likely on marginalised caravan parks or where there is a high turnover of residents. At times the interests of the residents’ groups can be at the expense of other residents, especially more marginalised residents.

In a park with both manufactured homes and caravans, the residents’ group (which consisted primarily of residents owning a manufactured home) supported the manager in evicting a family renting a caravan who were experiencing numerous crises and who were difficult tenants and neighbours. The group, which had no members with young children, also supported the manager’s decision to remove play equipment from the park because of insurance concerns.
Community worker

Strategies that promote community building and break down barriers between residents can help reduce the potential for polarisation and can encourage residents working together to advocate on their own behalf.

Staff will adapt their style of advocacy to the situation

Different situations require different styles of advocacy. Some forum participants spoke about the “hammer and the feather” approach. At times strong advocacy is required, and this can involve strategies such as taking park management to court or a tribunal. At other times, changes can be brought about by working with the park manager and discussing with them ways of improving the lives of residents.

Through working with the park managers a community health nurse was able to promote improvements to a park including repairs to caravans and the provision of full-size refrigerators. The manager also provided space for a demountable that could be used for health and other services when they visited the park.

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. 9 principles for supporting families and communities
  2. Principle 1: Services will make building strong relationships with residents a high priority
  3. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
  4. “I try and make it feel more like a home” – families living in caravan parks
  5. Building relationship between caravan park (trailer park) residents and school
  6. Families with children living in caravan parks

 References

  1. Perkins, S., Working with caravan park managers, in Supporting residents of caravan parks: Principles of promising practice, G. Stuart, Editor. 2007, Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle: Newcastle.
  2. Marshall, C., The caravan experience: REAL Stories. 2005, Brisbane: Onsite, Queensland Shelter.
  3. Park and Village Service, Submissions in response to the review of the Residential Parks Act 1998 discussion paper. 2004, Park and Village Service: Sydney.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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