Sleeping rough on Canberra’s streets as the city shivers through sub-zero temperatures is bad enough, but those on the ground say there simply aren’t enough services available to change the situation for the capital’s homeless population.
That’s not to say that people aren’t out there helping, but it’s taking its toll on those who are on the streets and workers in the sector, as Homeless Care Packs’ Ammie Barrett knows only too well.
She’s convinced that the situation since the pandemic began last year has only become worse and that homeless people are, in some cases, resorting to violence to move each other on.
“Not only are the police and businesses moving homeless people on, it’s now leading to more violence,” she said.
Ammie is angry and frustrated with the current situation and says she is under the impression that there’s “nobody out there who cares”.
But most people Ammie helps are friendly and appreciative of anything that can be shared with them – whether food, toiletries, clothes or pet packs.
She and her wife Geraldine Freeman are now operating Homeless Care Packs out of their own back garden shed. Most evenings, they drive around Canberra and find people sleeping rough and then provide them with the services they require.
While they have a team of people who will come along and help them with deliveries, building the packs is down to Geraldine and Ammie.
Currently, they’re calling out for donations of funds as well as goods to keep them operational.
While Ammie says services like the Sleepbus are a good start, “one night off the streets doesn’t help people moving forwards in their lives”.
Ammie also thinks that a service such as Beddown, which turns areas like car parks, which are busy during the day but vacant at night, into pop-up accommodation, would greatly benefit those sleeping rough on Canberra’s streets.
Having experienced homelessness herself, Ammie knows only too well exactly how those on the streets are feeling. It was losing her brother in 2019 that really put Ammie back on the path to turning her life around.
“I was put in a house, but I didn’t have the life skills to know how to look after myself and get into a routine, so it wasn’t the best option for me,” Ammie explained.
Ammie is convinced that along with permanent housing being provided for people, there needs to be constant support services, especially when they are already struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse.
“Throwing somebody in a house without any support is only setting them up to fail. I know because I experienced it.”
Homelessness Week started on Sunday 1 August and runs until Saturday 7 August. It’s a national initiative that aims to bring awareness of the impact of homelessness throughout Australia.
Minister for Housing and Homelessness Services Rebecca Vassarotti said the ACT Government does, in fact, work closely with the sector to fund a large number of support services, including material aid, outreach services, emergency, refuge and transitional accommodation to improve outcomes for people at risk.
“Supporting the needs of Canberrans at risk of or experiencing homelessness is critical to improving outcomes for both the community and individual,” she said.
Minister Vassarotti recommended that individuals who are at-risk of or experiencing homelessness engage with the OneLink, the Government’s central intake provider for homelessness services which can help people connect with support and organisations to meet their specific needs.
The ACT Government also funds Street to Home, which provides outreach to people sleeping rough. Other services in Canberra available for those who are homeless include the Queanbeyan and Canberra sleep buses.
If you are homeless or at risk of homelessness, OneLink provides information and connections for support services in the ACT, including services for families and young people. A list of front-line community organisations can be found at VolunteeringACT and ACT Government funded homelessness services.