A safe place to head for if you are homeless in Canberra

Rebecca Vassarotti MLA 26 April 2017

As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, most of us are lucky to return each evening to a home that is warm, safe and comfortable. For the growing number of people facing homelessness however, winter in the Capital presents huge challenges and adversity.

Thankfully there are people that are trying to make a real difference. This week Safe Shelter, a program that provides basic emergency accommodation for men, once again opens its doors to provide safety, warmth, and comfort through the depth of the Canberra winter.

Safe Shelter ACT opened in 2013 and is now an important way to support homeless men in Canberra.

This program is needed. Over the five months of operation last year 139 men sought refuge through the program. These are people that would have most certainly have been sleeping on the streets if the program had not been operating. This is an increasingly common experience in a city that has the second-highest rate of homelessness in Australia.

This year the program will be operating from three venues and will increase its nights of operation from three nights to five nights a week. In addition to operating from St Columba’s Uniting Church Braddon three nights a week (Tuesday to Thursday), it will also operate from Salvation Army City Corps Hall in Braddon on a Friday and at All Saints Anglican Church, Ainslie, a bit further along the No 7 action bus route on a Monday evening. There is also a shelter, operating on a slightly different model, at the Uniting Church in Queanbeyan.

Guests do not have to register but do have to agree to comply with a code of conduct. They are offered a free swag or warm jacket that they are welcome to keep. They are given a mat to mark out their own sleeping area on the carpeted floor and are offered tea, coffee, Milo and biscuits and there are small comforts such as a television. There is access to the Orange Sky Laundry and in the morning, guests are able to head to the Early Morning Centre for a shower and breakfast.

This program operates with no funding from government and is completely reliant on volunteers and support from the community. It is managed by a volunteer management committee who manages operations, supports more than 100 volunteers to enable the program to operate, lets the community know about the program and gratefully receives donations from the community which enables the program to continue. Each night volunteers donate their time to work at the program and sleep beside guests on the floor of the hall. The program is always looking for more volunteers and encourages members of the public to let people who might need a safe place to sleep about the program.

While it’s distressing that we need this program in one of the most affluent cities in one of the most affluent countries in the world, I think this is a great example of what happens when our community comes together. What do you think?

If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering for Safe Shelter, please email safeshelteract@gmail.com or visit the Safe Shelter Facebook page – www.facebook.com/safeshelteract/

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