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.