13 May 2021

A bus named Sue: Canberra to get first women's sleepbus

| Michael Weaver
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Canberra sleepbus

The Canberra sleepbus will be named after women’s and animal rights advocate Sue Schreiner. Photo: Supplied.

Hot on the wheels of the Queanbeyan sleepbus, Canberra’s women’s-only pink sleepbus will arrive in less than a month, named in honour of women’s and animal rights advocate Sue Schreiner, who died in September last year.

Ms Schreiner, a lawyer who in 1962 became the first woman from the ACT to be admitted to the New South Wales Bar, was a staunch advocate for finding solutions to homelessness.

The Canberra sleepbus is a fitting tribute to the memory of Ms Schreiner, realised by the ACT Branch of the National Council of Women Australia.

“Sue was a huge advocate for women’s homelessness and for homeless people being able to keep pets with them because people become separated from their companion animals as soon as they become homeless, so this sleepbus really provides that link that Sue wanted to see,” said Juanita Flett, President of the NCW ACT.

Sleepbus founder Simon Rowe said the 22-bed pink sleepbus will be the first of its kind in Australia, providing a safe haven for women, their children as well as a cosy place for companion pets.

Each pod includes all the features of the Queanbeyan sleepbus, such as air-conditioning and comes with a mattress, pillows, sheets, blankets (washed daily), USB charging, lockable door and a television with a special channel showing services in the area for pathways out of homelessness.

Inmates from the Alexander Maconochie Centre have been making sheets, quilt covers and pet beds for the bus in what is a true community effort to get it here.

Mr Rowe and his sons are currently putting the finishing touches on the bus at its base in Melbourne before driving it to Canberra on 8 June. An official launch is scheduled for 12 June. The bus will initially be parked nightly at Tuggeranong, where the greatest need was identified.

“We’ve even been able to build a queen-size bunk in the back of this bus if mum has two or three kids who need emergency accommodation, so they can all stay in the pod together,” Mr Rowe told Region Media.

Canberra's pink sleepbus

Canberra’s pink sleepbus will arrive in June. Photo: Supplied.

After more than 18 months of planning and raising the $100,000 needed to buy, build and fit out the bus, Ms Flett said the sleepbus is a temporary solution to a bigger problem.

“Ideally, we hope that no one will need it, but we also know that is not the case, so it’s been an amazing effort by the Canberra community to know that the sleepbus is coming,” Ms Flett said.

The required $100,000 was raised within two months of the project beginning in December 2019, meaning the build was scheduled ahead of further sleep buses for Melbourne and Maroochydore later this year, albeit after a few delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ongoing funding is also being provided by the project’s major sponsor Icon Water.

“There’s no emergency shelter accommodation for women in Canberra, and a lot of people will be shocked to know that, so this has been something tangible that the Canberra community has been able to get behind.

“We’re very grateful and really want to thank all the people and organisations who have supported it,” Ms Flett said.

READ ALSO Region’s homeless to rest easy with arrival of Queanbeyan sleepbus

The impending arrival of the Canberra sleepbus comes in time for winter and follows the launch of the first sleepbus in Australia at Queanbeyan in March.

The Queanbeyan sleepbus operates on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and aims to assist those in need seven days a week during winter.

It has so far provided 25 safe sleeps on 23 nights for 19 males and six females. Thirteen people aged between 19 and 35 have used the facility, along with seven people aged between 36 and 49 and five aged between 50 and 64.

Sleepbus founder Simon Rowe at the arrival of the Queanbeyan Sleepbus

Sleepbus founder Simon Rowe at the arrival of the Queanbeyan Sleepbus in March. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Mr Rowe first experienced being homeless when he slept in his car almost 30 years ago. Later he met a homeless man he described as the most tired man he’d ever seen and was challenged by his family to address the issue of homeless people getting a good night’s sleep.

He said they are also working on a health bus that will provide a mobile health service where there is a sleepbus.

“This is all an evolving process, but it’s also a full-on community engagement project, and it’s something that couldn’t operate without the support of the community,” Mr Rowe said.

You can find out more on the Sleepbus website, including how to volunteer for the Canberra sleepbus.

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