Hunter Homeless Connect Inc. Management Committee

Michelle Faithfull – Chairperson & Events & Community Directory Coordinator

Michelle has a long history of volunteering, fundraising and coordinating events for multiple charities, earning her the title of Newcastle Citizen of the Year in 2020 and a nomination for Australian of the Year in 2016. She has personally raised over $180,000.00 for multiple charities over the past decade here in the Hunter, outside of her day job. Her involvement with Hunter Homeless Connect began in 2017 when coordination of the annual Hunter Homeless Connect Day event became part of her responsibilities at Home in Place (formerly Compass Housing). Having volunteered at the event in 2016 she was already on a path of passion to support such an important cause. Since then, she has seen the event move from its original roots at the PCYC, to the Newcastle Basketball Stadium and eventually landing at its current venue, the Newcastle Exhibition Centre where it remains today. The exponential growth of the event is a reflection of Home in Place’s contribution in allowing her to dedicate her time, event management skills and community relations experience to managing the event and of course the unfortunate increase of many people in our community now needing support and connection with services. Michelle is also responsible for coordination and management of the HHC Community Directory, website and social media pages.

Michael Lott – Vice Chairperson

Michael works in the Disability Sector as the operations manager for a company providing disability services and housing across regional NSW. Michael has over 20 years of management experience in the community sector and has been involved in multiple community development initiatives across the Hunter region. Michael has additionally been a member and chairman of multiple boards and committees. He is passionate about helping people and contributing to the Hunter Homeless Connect committee.

Jennifer Leslie – Treasurer

Jennifer is a non-executive director with fifteen years of board-level experience, with particular expertise in financial services, state and local government structures and for purpose organisations. She has a well-established career forged in the Hunter Region, with national consulting firms, Pitcher Partners and PwC. Jennifer is a Chartered Accountant and has held board and committee positions with some of the region’s most significant organisations including Newcastle Permanent where she chairs the Charitable Foundation, University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Local Health District. As a finance professional Jennifer is well aware that the first step to becoming financially secure is stable housing and she hopes to contribute to the solution for homelessness in the region through her contribution to Hunter Homeless Connect.

Leanne Poole – Secretary

Leanne is the Coordinator for the Wesley Mission Newcastle Community Hub.  She is very passionate about making a difference every day, because every life matters.  Leanne has a long history of volunteering and fundraising within the local community and more recently her drive is to advocate for those most vulnerable, to have the voice for those that feel they do not have one.  Leanne has a positive “do all the good you can, in all the ways you can” attitude and is inspired to raise awareness of homelessness and work hand in hand with the valuable work of Hunter Homeless Connect and other community partners to ensure those in need are not left behind.

Peta Winney-Baartz

Peta is currently a Councillor at City of Newcastle (Ward 3), a Child & Youth Worker with over 20 years experience and a Mother to four children. She is passionate about giving back to her Community. After witnessing the great achievements of Hunter Homeless Connect Day she felt honoured to join the committee and hopes to raise awareness of homelessness and to address the needs our community has resulting from disadvantage; to advocate to ensure that HHC Inc. is at the forefront of discussion in relation to policy development around housing & homelessness; to assist in furthering the valuable work of HHC Inc. within Newcastle and across across region and ensure the ongoing success of all projects undertaken by HHC Inc.

Louise Maher

Louise has enjoyed a career in managing small business, events, tourism and hospitality spanning 30 years, at a regional, national and international level. A collaborative mindset and creative execution of strategic ideas is the approach Louise takes, adding value in a personalised and effective fashion.  Sharing this experience and collaborating with local networks, for the benefit of the community and those in need is the path Louise chooses to tread. Louise is a great admirer of the work that Hunter Homeless Connect does and strives to make a valuable contribution to the committee and those experiencing homelessness.

Jenn O’Sullivan 

Having worked in the inner suburbs of Sydney in the NSW Police Force, Jenn became very aware of the complexities of the social needs of individuals who have been impacted by mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and domestic violence.  Following the Police Force, many of her life experiences and employment opportunities working with disadvantaged people in the community, continued to prepare, strengthen, and shape her to be able to understand and relate to people who face inequalities and adversity. Jenn is passionate about connecting people 365 days a year and believes that as a community, we cannot be passive in our response to homelessness, and hopes with access and opportunities, people will have a choice to change their direction and their lives.

Gabrielle Brown

Gabrielle is the heart and driving force behind Oak & Edge, an NDIS Registered Disability Business, where she masterfully blends over 15 years of construction industry expertise with her passionate involvement in the disability sector over the last 4.5 years. As a dedicated mother of three small children, Gabrielle brings a unique perspective and an unparalleled level of empathy to her work, understanding the nuances of creating family-friendly, accessible environments.

Her journey has been marked by a deep commitment to enhancing the lives of individuals with disabilities, specialising in home modifications, specialist disability accommodation, and comprehensive individual support services. Gabrielle’s approach is not just about building and modifying spaces but also about nurturing independence and capacity in people living with disabilities.

Holding a Masters in Project Management/Construction and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing, Gabrielle’s educational background is as diverse as her day-to-day life. Balancing the roles of a business leader and a parent, she brings a unique blend of professional acumen and personal insight to every project at Oak & Edge. Her skills in project management are evident not only in her professional work but also in her adept handling of the joys and challenges of motherhood.

Her approach is deeply rooted in understanding the individual needs of each client, ensuring that every project is tailored to enhance their daily living experience. Gabrielle’s vision for Oak & Edge is to continue breaking barriers in accessibility, setting new standards for inclusivity and support in the industry, and empowering people through innovative and thoughtful design.

Sonja Duncan

With a passion for social justice, Sonja is committed to bettering the lives of the most vulnerable in our community. As founder and CEO of a company working at the intersection of business and human rights, she has a deep understanding of human rights issues gained over 30 years of consulting experience and supported by her post graduate qualifications in human rights law and sustainability.

Sonja has worked with businesses and communities across Australia and internationally to integrate sustainability and social justice issues into corporate and government decision making and continues to support companies to develop and implement effective environment, social and governance (ESG) strategies. She is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and an experienced non-executive director and committee member.

Whilst living in Sydney Sonja volunteered regularly with the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross. Her frontline role in the Community Service Centre gave her a deeper understanding of the many and diverse causes and impacts of homelessness. It also strengthened her desire to support people experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless, to ensure their needs (including social needs and essential human services) are met, without judgement. The mission of Hunter Homeless Connect to build an inclusive community with zero judgement resonates strongly with Sonja and she is honoured to be part of HHC and contribute to the important work of the committee.