The ACT, a jurisdiction that boasts the highest and most evenly distributed income in the nation, is experiencing a homelessness crisis.
According to Homelessness Australia, on any given night one in 200 people in Australia are homeless. A quarter of homeless Australians are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, and 30 per cent were born overseas.
The ACT’s homelessness rate has increased by 70 per cent since 2006 which is well above more than double than any other jurisdiction in Australia. Tonight there will be nearly 1800 Canberrans without homes.
I recently had a conversation with my mate Joe Bailie who has been homeless in Canberra for much of his adult life. He explained the factors that contributed to his homelessness.
“All throughout school I thought I had a normal name until one day the kids started teasing me and saying that I had a girl’s name,” he said.
“It meant that I had to learn how to fight and before I knew it, I was fighting every day of my life.”
Unable to cope with his social isolation, he felt there was no escape from such a scarred and rejected existence other than the reprieve that drugs had to offer.
He explained that the difference between being homeless in Canberra compared with other places in Australia is that Canberra lacks the basics.
“You can’t find water and there’s nowhere to shower like at the coast. There’s just not enough beds and places to go”, he said.
For Joe, being in homeless in Canberra is cold – both physically and emotionally.
“So many people just look at you with their noses in the air and the heads up their bums. I don’t blame anyone though.”
Joe is articulate and intelligent. He describes being homeless like drowning – he doesn’t want a home just so he can live in it; he wants a home so he can stand on his own two feet, breath the air, get a job, and contribute to society.
He is currently studying at CIT and hopes to graduate as a certified youth worker in six months. Good luck Joe.
Joe recently applied to live in a housing complex designed by Common Ground Canberra. To be opened in May this year, the Gungahlin project is a multifaceted and innovative approach to the problem of homelessness, explains one of the many devoted directors of the project, Diane Kargas.
“Common Ground Canberra believes that housing someone should come first and then services can be provided to people that cater specifically for their needs,” she said.
The Gungahlin facility will comprise of 40 one-bedroom units whose tenants will ideally be an even mix of formerly chronically homeless people and people simply on low incomes. Supplied by the facility will be counsellors, support workers, and 24/7 security. The facility does not cater for children.
Predominantly funded by the ACT Government, the Commonwealth, and The Snow Foundation, let’s hope that Common Ground Canberra makes a substantial difference in what is becoming a serious and growing moral blight on our nation’s capital.