People with purpose: Home is where Deb’s heart is

Posted on 11 Aug 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia


Unison Housing community engagement place manager Deb Wilson studied economics at university but soon found a passion for helping those in need to secure a roof over their heads.

How would you describe your role at Unison Housing?

Developing and delivering on community projects and partnerships to increase opportunities for residents to participate in the life of their community.

This involves engagement with multiple stakeholders including residents, local community leaders and groups, business, government agencies, service providers and funding bodies.

How did you come to work in the not-for-profit sector?

I’ve always been interested in social justice, cultural diversity, and people from all walks of life.

When I look back as a uni student doing economics, I spent a lot of time – probably too much – organising university events and activities for our international student cohort, at a time when there wasn’t a lot of cultural exchange outside the lecture theatre.

Then post uni I became a youth worker (not economics related at all) and have never looked back.

Deb Wilson Union Housing Award
Deb Wilson accepts the National Leading Community Engagement Practice Award for the Kensington Community Food Forest at the Australasian Housing Institute Professional Excellence Housing Awards 2019.

What drives your passion to do the work that you do?

Having impact in people’s lives, helping break down barriers, creating opportunities and bringing positive change.

The opportunity to meet and form relationships with amazing and diverse people in the local community to co-create and build great things, often from small ideas, like the former Kensington Community Festival, the award-winning Kensington Community Food Forest and more recently the Kensington Community Fresh Food Market – “locally grown”.

What’s the most pressing issue facing those you are trying to help?

Public and social housing where I work represent a high proportion of people with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people who speak a home language other than English and large families sometimes overcrowding small apartments.

In addition, there’s a large cohort of people on aged care or disability support pensions and a smaller proportion in paid work. Public and social housing often represents a pocket of social disconnection, exclusion, and economic disadvantage.

These are the most pressing issues facing the communities I support.

Deb Wilson and friends
Deb Wilson (second from left) with Nicole Marshall, Charlie Volpe and Melina Caccetta at the recent Flem Ken Rotary function.

Who do you admire the most in the not-for-profit sector?

There are many people. Those local champions that aren’t well known, sometimes invisible, doing incredible unpaid work behind the scenes for their local communities because they care – our wonderful volunteers.

In terms of those well-known, [ACTU secretary] Sally McManus is someone I always have time for: a strong advocate and brilliant communicator for workers in the not-for-profit sector, many of whom are on the minimum wage.

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