Why Shalom House founder Peter Lyndon-James doesn’t care what his critics think
“I don’t have that many critics,” Lyndon-James says when I ask him why he thinks he has so many detractors.
“And why would I care what they think of me?
“I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.”
His way or the highway
I’d planned my visit to Shalom House to speak with Lyndon-James about the new women’s program being run out of the Swan Valley in Perth’s east.
I thought I’d chat to a couple of the ladies, get some shots of Shalom’s newest recruits, and be done within an hour or so.
I thought wrong.
In Lyndon-James’ house, you do things his way.
“Have a listen to this,” he says by way of introduction, and presses ‘play’ on a foul-mouthed and threatening tirade left on his voicemail.
The message is hideous and, had it been sent to me, would have been passed on to police.
Lyndon-James just laughs.
“This is the kind of abuse I get. This is why I have 30 cameras on my house,” he says.
“These people want to criticise me, but how many of them actually come out here and have a look at what we’re doing?
“None of ‘em. Not one.”
What Lyndon-James is doing, and what he’s been doing for close to a decade, does have elements common to religious cults and outlying sects.
He is a charismatic leader who demands complete compliance from his subjects.
Part of his program separates residents from their family members, and those signing on to the Shalom House ethos will pay both financially and physically, with residents having to sign over their Centrelink benefits to the centre and then work each day for Shalom.
Lyndon-James laughs again when I ask if he is running a cult.
“I’m running a culture,” he says.
“Have a look around. Do you see anyone here who looks like they don’t want to be here?”
I do not.
The men, who all sport the same, close-cropped hairstyles, also appear to share warm and respectful interactions with Lyndon-James.
There’s a conviviality about the place; a genuine warmth. There is joking.
But there’s only one boss, and if you do him wrong, there are consequences.
Lyndon-James tells me residents who fall foul of the centre’s strict rules would be driven “miles away – out the back of Gnangara”, and left to either find their way to a bus stop, or find their way back to Shalom House.
“It’s up to them,” he says. “That long walk gives them time to think.”
A measure of success?
A community newspaper story published last year placed Shalom House at the bottom of the country’s rehabilitation centres in terms of successful outcomes, claiming a “graduation” rate of just 12 per cent.
It’s not a statistic Lyndon-James can refute; he doesn’t keep those records.
“If my program costs the government nothing, and costs nothing to anyone but the resident, and if I save one person, what’s my success rate?” he says.
“It’s a hundred per cent.”
As far as the money goes – and there is plenty of it, with Shalom House raking in just shy of $4 million dollars in the 2018/19 financial year – Lyndon-James says he doesn’t see a single cent of it, claiming he and his partner live off the proceeds of a separate investment.
Most of the money coming into Shalom, which is a registered charity, goes towards paying staff, rent on 14 properties, vehicle running costs and food and supplies for up to 140 residents.
The centre’s financial reports are publicly available.
“There’s no flies on me,” Lyndon-James says.
“Anyone, any time, can come and check us out.”
It’s all about honesty, integrity, accountability, and transparency, according to Lyndon-James, who repeats these four words like a mantra throughout the day.
And yes, it’s tough love, but Shalom House is not about breaking people down before building them up again.
“It’s about this,” Lyndon-James says, pointing to his heart.
“Why would I want to break people down? I want to love them.”
Kate is the deputy editor of WAtoday.