Psst, Canberra, can I tell you something?

Kim Treasure 6 October 2020 10
ACT homelessness

Homelessness in the ACT is coming out of the shadows. Photo: File.

Hi Canberra, I think we need to talk.

I’ve grown up in the capital region, with you sitting at the centre of my orbit. Your gleaming buildings, manicured gardens and smooth roads were things of beauty and wonderment.

As a child, a trip to Canberra was the stuff of exciting school excursions to Federal Parliament, the National Gallery or the Australian Mint. Then there were the family holidays.

I remember my father cursing your sweeping roundabouts as we became hopelessly ensnared while trying to make our way from Cowra to the coast. The Chevy Chase-esque cries of “Look kids, there’s the lake” as we circled it for the umpteenth time have become a family joke that endures more than four decades after the event.

As a young mum, a Christmas shopping trip to Canberra with the female friends who are basically family was a highlight of the year. One night and two days of child-free shopping that largely centred on bulk buys of whatever was trendy and invariably led to Christmas morning comments like: “Look Mum, Santa must have liked polka dots this year, Delayne’s top is just like mine.”

Later, it was your health facilities that drew me here and, finally, work.

Over the years I’ve noticed many changes: the growth of your vibrant dining scene, the spread of your leafy suburbs, the allure of your foreshore precincts.

But there’s something I have to tell you.

It’s tough – a bit like telling someone they have body odour, or bad breath – but I have an unpleasant truth.

I’m sorry, not sure that you’ve noticed, but you have a homelessness problem.

I first noticed it about five years ago. I came to you, equal parts nervous and excited, for a job interview and took my daughter out for dinner in Civic. As we walked from the hotel, we both remarked on how many homeless people there seemed to be. Homelessness exists in all Australian communities but, bar Sydney, we’d never seen it so overt.

We sat down to dine at an outdoor restaurant and were horrified to see a homeless man chased off by the staff. We went back home, feeling depressed, sad and largely helpless.

Since joining Region Media, I’ve been visiting you on a regular basis and the situation seems to have worsened. Beggars sit either side of the front door of my local supermarket and shoppers breeze past, seemingly oblivious.

Canberra, it’s not the sort of place I thought you were.

Mahatma Gandhi said the true measure of any society could be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. I think you can do better, Canberra. Are you going to?

World Homeless Day is on 10 October. To make a real difference to the lives of homeless people in the ACT, get involved with Hands Across Canberra’s Youth Homelessness Pathways Challenges. Visit Hands Across Canberra.


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10 Responses to Psst, Canberra, can I tell you something?
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Joe Humphries Joe Humphries 3:29 pm 08 Oct 20

I’m 70 years old. My family moved to Canberra in 1954 so I basically grew up in Ainslie. I was raised ( for want of a better term) in a decidedly dysfunctional family and as result ended up living on the streets, sleeping under bridges or under bushes and surviving the best way I could. That was in the late 50s and early 60s. There was no help or assistance available then and in between stints in Juvenile detention centers I just stumbled along in an ever decreasing downward spiral. I did receive help from some unlikely sources but they where not Government sources. I was one of the very lucky few that managed to survive to adult hood without becoming addicted to drugs and without becoming an habitual criminal. My point is, the situation has not changed for the better in all that time. Far from crying ” Oh poor me” I used my situation to become a better person. Not everyone has that opportunity and not everyone will grasp it if they get it. The Government really needs to get its act together, admit there is a problem and set about fixing that problem, it won’t fix itself.

peterv peterv 10:04 am 08 Oct 20

A very sad truth.
I remember traveling OS and thinking at least I don’t live in a city where we don’t protect our vulnerable.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:17 pm 07 Oct 20

Yes, a Poverty Task Force for the ACT mightn’t be such a bad idea – even if some people dismiss it as a stunt.

Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 5:29 pm 07 Oct 20

Could I suggest that it may be possible to make a significant dent in homelessness in the ACT simply through a comprehensive audit of the ACT public housing estate and its administration by the ACT Government? Not that the Labor/Green elites that run this place would ever admit it but it seems to me that addressing maladministration and inappropriate resource allocation in this area could generate a substantial level of additional housing stock without any new construction.

steve2020 steve2020 3:55 pm 07 Oct 20

The visibility and encouragement of homelessness, mainly in Canberra City (Civic) could be attributed to sympathy in affluent small l liberal cities and in CBDs where there is higher green-left support and it’s disproportionately higher than other comparable cities with different leadership. The glorification of windscreen washers at traffic lights around Canberra is a good example which you don’t see elsewhere. It’s a problem that also affects American cities like San Francisco and places like Hollywood in Los Angeles. It shows a failure of the socialist and small l liberal elite to cater and provide for the culture that is advocated.

Solutions would be to create more public housing. I’m aware that Canberra has a major shortage which exacerbates the homelessness problem, with a significant number of people on waiting lists for a very long time, going into years. It’s not practicable. And policies or programs that prevent homelessness and encourage people to not be homeless through problem resolution assistance.

chewy14 chewy14 2:57 pm 07 Oct 20

Australia has an extremely generous welfare system with myriad services available to those who want to access them and numerous avenues to funnel people into those services.

Homelessness, whilst an important issue is not something that has significantly gotten worse in the ACT.

Most of the people begging in public areas are not truly reflective of the wider homeless population, they are simply the most visible, which seems to be what this article is relying on.

So should public policy in this area be based on the tiny minority of the most visible homeless people or should it be about achieving results for the vast majority of those who need assistance?

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:42 am 08 Oct 20

    What you have alluded to about our “extremely generous welfare system” is true and the people who know this better that any others are new arrivals to Australia.

Stephen Cox Stephen Cox 12:30 pm 07 Oct 20

Perhaps Gandhi was trying to put into words that the British could understand the way Indians perceived their treatment under British rule rather than actually wishing such actions on the British people?

    Spiral Spiral 7:57 am 08 Oct 20

    Perhaps not. His views were often just not very wise such as:

    ““I do not consider Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted. He is showing an ability that is amazing and he seems to be gaining his victories without much blood-shed”

    And
    “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves in the sea from cliffs…. It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany”

    He has benefitted from an amazing whitewashing effort, but today’s Woke Cancel Culture warriors really should take a good look at him (including his actions towards his family and young female followers).

    Appealing to an authority such as Gandhi to support a view on the apparent assumption that because he said something it must be wise, is itself not a wise thing to do.

Spiral Spiral 11:35 am 07 Oct 20

While better treatment of the homeless is a worthy cause, why do you have to appeal to the wisdom of Gandhi. After all, he was the guy who told the British in 1940:

“I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions… If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.”

Surely your views don’t need to appeal to the support of a man of such very dubious wisdom.

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