City's homeless highlight need for support
On the outer ... health worker Jean Fitzroy chats with Charles on a seat by Lake Burley Griffin. The once homeless man spent his days wandering Civic. Photo: Jay Cronan
For eight months, Charles spent his days and nights living rough in Civic. Most people just ignored him.
''It happened in 2010. I became homeless because of my mental illness … Just sleeping on the street. It was pretty hard,'' he said.
The first few nights in particular were a bit scary, ''but I slowly got used to it''.
While he is no longer on the streets and will soon have his own accommodation again, his mental health worker, Jean Fitzroy, says other people like Charles need more support.
''There is a lack of suitable and affordable and well-located housing options for people living with a mental illness, and a lack of in-home support as well to assist people to build up their living skills,'' she said.
''The general public don't like to acknowledge that we have rough sleepers here in Canberra, but it is a real issue.''
Charles, 34, who asked that his real name not be used, survived many cold nights with a sleeping bag and several layers of clothes from a charity bin. He spent his days wandering Civic, watching television at the bus station or in the library or bookshops.
''People mostly ignored me for the eight months. There were some nice ladies at the Jolimont Centre who would give me food sometimes. I would eat at the Griffin Centre, because they give free meals there. At the Uniting Church they serve breakfast,'' he said.
Ms Fitzroy has been working with Charles for almost two years.
''Initially it was about building a connection with [Charles], and a trusting relationship, which is the most important basis for the work that we do in mental health. [Charles] was quite unwell and quite scared as well,'' she said.
''So it was really about supporting him through this journey, advocating for him to navigate through the system, which can be quite tricky at times; liaising with different services, like Centrelink and Housing and the non-government organisations as well, to ensure that [Charles] had access to appropriate support.''
Ms Fitzroy said working in mental health was rewarding, because she was able to focus on people's strengths, but it could also be hard and challenging work.
''Unfortunately, because there is a lack of appropriate services for people who have a mental illness and who are sleeping rough, sometimes there isn't a lot that we can do, and that can be difficult and heartbreaking to know that someone is sleeping rough when you are going home to your nice comfy bed,'' she said.