Champion for the older homeless honoured

Bryan Lipmann, founder of Wintringham, Australia’s largest aged care provider for the homeless, has been named Melburnian of the Year and calls for the sector to embrace work with disadvantaged.

Founder and chief executive of Wintringham, Australia’s largest aged care provider for the homeless, has been named Melburnian of the Year, and called for the sector to embrace work with the disadvantaged.

Bryan Lipmann, who was presented the award at a ceremony last Saturday, told Australian Ageing Agenda he was very grateful for the honour and it was a “great thrill” to see work with the homeless recognised.

Providing aged care to the homeless has been a passion for Mr Lipmann for more than 30 years. “It gives me a focus in my own life, it grounds me… It’s the most rewarding work you can get,” he said.

Prior to establishing Wintringham in 1989, Mr Lipmann worked as a social worker in night shelters around Melbourne, where he was touched by the plight of the elderly homeless he saw.

Bryan Lipmann with his award
Bryan Lipmann with his award

Around the same time, his father needed aged care and he had to intersect with the sector for the first time.

“I had no idea how good it was. So I naturally thought, ‘I’m going to get my guys out of the shelters and into aged care’. But I didn’t have any luck at all. None of the mainstream aged care providers would take referrals from me,” he said. “So I left and set up Wintringham.”

For the first two years, Mr Lipmann was the organisation’s only employee. Now Wintringham employs over 600 people and is the largest provider of care services to the elderly homeless and older people at housing risk in Australia.

“I had no idea it was going to grow this big, but the principle was simply that I felt they should receive the same type care that my parents were getting,” he said.

‘No one’s really interested’

Mr Lipmann said that in a sector where most organisations were funded by bonds or contributions, he was grateful of government support to allow organisations like Wintringham to adapt the system to care for “the fish that John West rejects.”

However, he said more broadly, the sector still had a way to go in embracing care for the disadvantaged or those of diverse backgrounds.

“The aged care industry and the peaks aren’t interested in our work at all,” he said. “No one’s really interested in the aged homeless, it’s strange.”

In particular, he said he took issue with charitable not-for-profits competing with for-profit providers for clients who could afford to pay large accommodation bonds.

Mr Lipmann also expressed concerns about the move towards consumer directed care, a system he said presupposes all older people would be able to advocate for themselves or had someone who will be able to help them to do so.

He said the aged care system was geared around an archetypal client – female, aged around 85, white, Anglo-Saxon, with a loving family – but the real test of the system was how it responded to the needs of people who did not fit that mould.

At Wintringham, many of the residents, who were younger than those in mainstream facilities, did not have families of their own, which was why it was important to create a sense of community and trust, Mr Lipmann said.

Residents were younger as the experience of being homeless had prematurely aged them, and Mr Lipmann said that while it may seem counter-intuitive in aged care, the longer residents stayed at Wintringham, the better their health tended to get.

“If you work hard enough you can find ways to do this kind of stuff within the aged care envelope,” he said. “That’s something to be quite proud of, I’ve always thought aged care should make more of that, they should be more positive about diversity and how flexible the industry can be if necessary.”

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1 thought on “Champion for the older homeless honoured

  1. Congrats Bryan. Wonderful to see someone recognised who looked beyond the stereotypes to the real world.

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