Cold comfort: homeless and sleeping in a car

MissionWorx director James Boyce and Cary Wood… Cary’s first stint living in a car was, he says, his longest – “about three months”. Photo by Danielle Nohra

GROWING up, Cary Wood never had a static home, he was raised by nuns in Goulburn, forced into “homes” in Canberra and then placed into the foster-care system.

When he became a young adult, he was no longer eligible for these services and had no choice but to live in his car while waiting for a real place through government housing.

This was Cary’s first “stint” living in a car and, he says, it was the longest – “about three months”.

During that time Cary would go in search for public showers and food.

Cary says he was young and angry at the world then, and was often left sleeping in his car after something bad occurred.

“Usually it happens when you’re down and you’ve had a drama with rent or unemployment and you have nowhere to go,” he says.

Cary continued in and out of houses, in and out of jobs and in and out of his car for some of his life.

During this journey Cary met MissionWorx director James Boyce, 34, who helps run a drop-in centre in Civic where homeless people can get a bite to eat in a safe environment.

James, who gives support and helps make food, has been with the charity for about seven years and says cases such as Cary’s aren’t uncommon.

“There is one man who visits our drop-in lunches who told me he broke up with his wife and was sleeping in his car in the open-air car park opposite our drop-in space for a few months,” James says.

“He used to have a house and life with his wife here in Canberra, but when the relationship broke down he had only his car left.

“When I asked him where he was staying he gestured to the car park and pointed out his car ‘over there’.”

James says most people put on a brave face when sleeping rough, but they always appreciate any blankets, food or conversation.

“It can be a lonely existence for much of the day,” he says.

Cary agrees and says he first came to the drop-in centre during a time when he couldn’t afford food, but continued to come for the social life.

Luckily, Cary never ended up on the streets but living in a car is just a step away from the concrete pavements.

“Some people are elderly and sleeping on the street in these [winter] conditions,” he says.

“It’s a lot tougher than being in a car, you can’t just get up and make a cuppa or go to the bathroom.”

For this reason, MissionWorx and Fusion Canberra are teaming up this month for Homelessness Week, August 7-13, to raise money and awareness with the event “Sleep in Your Car”, which aims at keeping people like Cary from sleeping on the streets.

The community fundraiser asks people to experience one night without a home by sleeping in their car at Eternity Church, Kambah, or on some cardboard in the foyer, or even in their car at home.

The event aims to raise revenue and awareness towards Fusion’s work with disadvantaged young people and MissionWorx, which works with the homeless in the heart of Canberra.

Sleep In Your Car Canberra, Eternity Church, 490 Sulwood Drive, Kambah,  from 6pm to 7.30am, on August 12-13. Contact Fusion Canberra at 0422 525748 or


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