Australia’s first sleepbus an emergency safety net for homeless women

Michael Weaver 18 June 2021 48
Simon Rowe and Juanita Flett with the Canberra pink sleepbus

Sleepbus founder Simon Rowe and National Council of Women ACT branch president Juanita Flett welcome the Canberra pink sleepbus, which is named after advocate for women Sue Schreiner. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Sitting on a bunk bed in Australia’s first sleepbus for women – before a single homeless woman, her children and maybe even her pets have found refuge there – gives pause for thought.

The arrival of the Canberra sleepbus follows a long journey of fundraisers by the ACT branch of the National Council of Women Australia, whose president, Juanita Flett, was relentless in obtaining the $100,000 needed to buy and fit out the bus.

The 22-bed sleepbus launches in Canberra today (19 June). The bus, ‘Sue’, is named after women’s and animal rights advocate Sue Schreiner, who died in September 2020.

Ms Schreiner became the first female lawyer from the ACT to be admitted to the NSW Bar in 1962, and was a staunch advocate for finding solutions to homelessness.

Juanita Flett and Simon Rowe with the Canberra pink sleepbus

National Council of Women ACT branch president Juanita Flett and Sleepbus founder Simon Rowe with the new Canberra pink sleepbus for women. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Juanita says Sue Schreiner would be proud of the sleepbus, but would have hated all the fuss over a bus that is the result of a massive community effort.

“Without all of the community support we received, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” she says. “It’s great we’ve also been able to honour Sue’s legacy as she was one of the first people to get involved and put a fair chunk of money behind it.”

Each pod on the sleepbus includes air-conditioning and comes with a mattress, pillows, sheets, blankets (washed daily), USB charging, a lockable door and a television with a special channel showing services in the area for pathways out of homelessness. There are also hatches for companion animals.

The Canberra sleepbus has a few extra comforts such as a pod that sleeps four people on double bunk beds if a family has to find emergency accommodation.

While there are other forms of emergency accommodation around town, Juanita says the pink sleepbus will link to other services for women in Canberra.

“The biggest concern for us was there was nowhere for someone to go after hours and have a safe sleep, but with this sleepbus we can now provide that and help people access the services they need the next day,” says Juanita.

“The police have told us they have nowhere to take someone, and they have already been liaising with us.”

The bus will initially be parked nightly at Tuggeranong Uniting Church, a place where the greatest need was identified.

“If we see the demand for a sleepbus in other parts of Canberra, we’ll definitely look to get another one,” says Juanita.

READ ALSO: A bus named Sue: Canberra to get first women’s sleepbus

Canberra’s pink sleepbus and Queanbeyan’s blue sleepbus, which arrived in March, have been a labour of love for Sleepbus founder Simon Rowe, who builds the buses in Melbourne and delivers them once community fundraising has been secured.

“We’re now looking at providing two sleep buses in Maroochydore, in Queensland, and at least one in Byron Bay,” he says.

“The Canberra sleepbus will start taking its first sleepers on 25 June. We’re always unsure of what the initial response will be as people kind of suss it out, but we can definitely say this bus provides so much more than what someone sleeping rough in their car will have.

“They can sleep or come in and put on the telly and maybe just watch a game of footy in comfort as these are things we take for granted.”

Simon says if a male were to arrive, they would immediately call police, while the volunteer caretakers provide security along with the bus’s own security cameras.

“All we ask for is a person’s first name and we take an estimate of their age so we can provide some data on who is using the bus,” he says.

Inside one of the Canberra sleepbus pods

One of the Canberra sleepbus pods. Photo: Supplied.

“Now that it’s here, it’s another option to help keep people safe until we figure out how to manage their long-term needs, and we’ll let the bus do the talking for what it provides to communities.”

After a few delays due to COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne, the arrival of the Canberra sleepbus comes in time for winter and follows the launch of the first sleepbus in Australia, at Queanbeyan.

The blue Queanbeyan sleepbus operates at the Queanbeyan Visitor Information Centre and assists people in need on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. It has so far provided 43 safe sleeps on 35 nights, including one couple who have since found a permanent place to live.

The Canberra sleepbus will be officially launched at 12:00 pm on Saturday, 19 June, at Tuggeranong Uniting Church. You can find out more on the Sleepbus website, including how to volunteer for the Canberra sleepbus.

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48 Responses to Australia’s first sleepbus an emergency safety net for homeless women
Liv Miller Liv Miller 8:28 pm 22 Jun 21

Rachel Edmondstone love 💓 this

    Rachel Edmondstone Rachel Edmondstone 7:32 am 23 Jun 21

    Liv Miller what a beautiful heart these people have! These are big, BIG things to women in need 🌻 Well done to the whole team involved getting this together 👍

    Liv Miller Liv Miller 8:34 am 23 Jun 21

    Sure is a wonderful and kind thing to do... People don’t realise that there are homeless women here too. It’s so so cold and really dangerous out for them on the streets. 👌👍

Cheryl Martine Cheryl Martine 12:54 pm 22 Jun 21

Fabulous love it cheers to all who have worked hard to achieve this

Britt Eva Britt Eva 8:48 am 22 Jun 21

Wonderful. It would be even better if more was done to house them permanently.

Scott Evans Scott Evans 8:03 am 22 Jun 21

Homelessness is across all genders, the Queanbeyan bus is not targeted for just woman and children and there has been more men use it than woman so far so I don't understand why Canberra's homeless men are not welcome to use this service

    Scott Evans Scott Evans 10:04 am 22 Jun 21

    Anne Crestani I understand that but this argument can also be flipped the other way, each sleeping pod is entirely separate its not like its a shared space, but also their other bus is not set up this way so why is the Canberra one, Idk for me it just doesn't sit rite

Milenko-Slavenka Jovanovic Milenko-Slavenka Jovanovic 7:38 am 22 Jun 21


Catherine Udovicic Catherine Udovicic 11:47 pm 21 Jun 21

If this is for women and children who have to escape violence in their own homes, I wouldn't worry about the men unless they also have escaped violent women in their own home. But if this is the case, let men provide the solution instead of criticizing women who have taken up the challenge.

Deb Batt Deb Batt 8:49 pm 21 Jun 21


Dee Kaden Dee Kaden 8:35 pm 21 Jun 21

What about men that are homeless??? Anything similar for them?

David Keir David Keir 5:01 pm 21 Jun 21

Don’t worry about the homeless men

    Virginia Loizou Virginia Loizou 4:08 pm 22 Jun 21

    David Keir funny this isn’t a pie. You don’t get less because they make something specific for women to feel safer around other women. There are in fact unisex sleep buses. But you wouldn’t be a man if you didn’t whinge and play the victim card to get noticed …. Oh well better luck next time

    David Keir David Keir 5:02 pm 22 Jun 21

    Virginia Loizou sounds like you’re the one whinging champ

Monica Tiffen Monica Tiffen 3:23 pm 21 Jun 21

Great idea!

Irene Dawson Irene Dawson 11:35 am 21 Jun 21

Excellent well done Canberra

Jenny Jordan Jenny Jordan 11:05 am 21 Jun 21


Samantha Cooper Samantha Cooper 11:00 pm 20 Jun 21

This is a great idea and glad to see it being promoted and put into action but why “women and kids” and even their pets I’m sorry but should be for everyone regardless of sex 🤷‍♀️ males deserve the exact same there’s a reason so many people are fighting for equality

    Maddie Midson Maddie Midson 11:51 pm 20 Jun 21

    Samantha Cooper totally agree

    Andy Seago Andy Seago 6:54 am 21 Jun 21

    Samantha Cooper I totally agree, this is a typical case of gender inequality. It should be a service for all homeless people regardless of gender.

    Emma Brown Emma Brown 12:27 pm 21 Jun 21

    Samantha Cooper pretty sure there is another sleep bus around that is not gender specific

    Abbey Snell Abbey Snell 3:46 pm 21 Jun 21

    Samantha there is a non-gender specific sleepbus. I think this is a situation for equity. A large cause of homelessness for women and children is domestic violence, and I think that this service best caters to ease their stress.

    Wayne Williams Wayne Williams 3:47 pm 21 Jun 21

    Lilly Walter tell that to the recently fatherless young fella in Brisbane, women commit family violence also

    Cameron Murtagh Cameron Murtagh 6:12 pm 21 Jun 21

    Abbey Snell

    Mark Heinrich Mark Heinrich 6:42 pm 21 Jun 21

    These things are not either or. There’s a need for multiple solutions to multiple problems. Don’t knock something just because it isn’t a silver bullet.

    I was also very disappointed with the YWCA response, which basically said this is a waste of money - only a band aid, and we should be spending the money on long term solutions to homelessness. We need both band aids AND long term solutions. Long term solutions take a long time to implement - don’t knock those trying to meet an immediate need. It’s a bit like saying don’t treat cancer patients - spend the money on cancer prevention research instead. That doesn’t help those in immediate need.

    Louise Trott Louise Trott 3:12 pm 22 Jun 21

    Mark Heinrich Well said. An intelligent response.

Barbara Boswell Barbara Boswell 7:02 pm 20 Jun 21

Have a bus (LR) licence, can I be of help ????

Dee Collins Dee Collins 4:51 pm 20 Jun 21

This is a great interim measure we need public housing for women and children every night in Canberra.

Angela Turner Angela Turner 1:42 pm 20 Jun 21

Great work Googy 👍

Kim Maree Hocking Kim Maree Hocking 9:18 am 20 Jun 21

Thank you

Jay Jay Jay Jay 6:38 am 20 Jun 21

Tracey White is this what we were talking about?

Marlene Valenzuela Marlene Valenzuela 7:54 pm 19 Jun 21

This is amazing... Can anyone tell me how I can volunteer to help?

    Krystal Zoe Krystal Zoe 8:17 am 20 Jun 21

    Marlene Valenzuela

Kathryn Mitchell Kathryn Mitchell 5:39 pm 19 Jun 21

Sad this is needed but wonderful work by all involved ❤️

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