HOMELESS people are living “in a state of absolute terror” on the streets of Canberra.
“Out on the street – where do you go to the toilet?” says Uniting Care director Brendan Kennedy. “Where do you get food, if you have the courage to ask? What do you do at night? Where do you wash yourselves? How do you look after your feet? If you take off your shoes, there’s a high chance they won’t be there in the morning – so you never take them off. For people living on the street, their biggest concerns are, one – they want a safe place to sleep and two – a safe place to store their property.”
Canberra refuges are turning people away because they can’t keep up with the demand and are forced to refer homeless people to refuges outside of the Territory in Goulburn and Wagga Wagga.
Most recently, First Point, the ACT Government support line for the homeless or people at risk of homelessness, recorded 106 women and children turned away from local refuges, says Mr Kennedy.
But he and a group of churches and concerned community workers are hoping to turn that around by forming the Safe Shelter Group, which has recognised the issue and is devising a plan to start a safe shelter for the homeless.
After seeking help from Housing ACT and speaking to the then-Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and Housing Minister Joy Burch to begin the project, the group turned to the private sector for help.
“ClubsACT said they were happy to help because they felt it was a problem they could solve,” he said.
They also have the full support of other community organisations including the Canberra branches of Rotary and Probus. But despite the amount of goodwill shown by the community – the group can’t find a building to house the shelter.
“All it is is a place to sleep,” Mr Kennedy said. “The Early Morning Centre is where they can have breakfast and meet people who can help them get on to the housing list and make other valuable contacts. How can they begin to deal with their issues without a safe place to have a good night’s sleep.”
Mr Kennedy said with so many empty buildings across Canberra, there is no reason they can’t be put to good use by housing the homeless.
Recently, Uniting Care bought four lockers for people to safely store their swags during the day, while they look for work or further their education.
The initiative, supported by the ACT Government, cost the church $6000, but still needs a place for installation.