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Homeless head to Canberra as mercury drops

Social workers are at a loss to explain why homeless people are heading to Canberra despite the approaching freezing weather.

The phenomenon is being discussed among workers in sector who are seeing an influx of people arriving with no money.

Canberra’s status as the national capital apparently creates a mythical aura among some people who believe the seat of government will be the place where they are taken care of.

As the new arrivals put extra strain on resources, workers in the sector are also concerned at the prospect of some agencies having to close within months as funding is reduced.

The ACT Government is being forced to pass along a reduction of millions of dollars in federal funding.


While Canberra might be a magnet, the new arrivals may not realise the national capital has very high rents and they could end up sleeping rough.

After getting off the bus, the homeless and unemployed people go to the Early Morning Centre on Northbourne Avenue for breakfast, find their way to Contact Canberra, a community information agency, or have a hot evening meal at the Roadhouse at the Griffin Centre.

‘‘Canberra is a major service centre for the region and a major service centre for the country so people look at Canberra, even people who are homeless, and say, let’s go there, I’m sure they’ll have to look after me, there’s got to be some public housing down there,’’ the agency’s CEO, Liz Howarth, says.

A  man who arrived from Queensland this week was typical of the new arrivals.

'‘He decided to come down to Canberra and try his luck with housing because he thought Canberra, as the seat of government, is where there should be provision for people who are homeless,’’ she said.

‘‘He came here with no money and expected he would be able to get money from a charity.

‘‘There is this perception that Canberra is well supported in services and that’s true, we are relatively well supported with services, we are a very attractive place to come for people.

‘'Therefore people are coming here at an increased rate from other regional areas because times are tough,’’ she said.

‘‘We continue to find ourselves being asked for housing, which we don’t have.

‘‘Each year it creeps up a bit more and you get people coming in and just get off the bus from somewhere, it’s very common.

‘‘I don’t know why this is so but you’ll get people coming from much warmer climates to Canberra in Autumn and Winter and they get stuck here with no money to leave.

‘‘They come here because they think they can get help.’’

Ms Howarth said her agency was seeing an escalation in the number of visits by people who identify as homeless – rising from 428 in 2012 to 514 last year.

Chris Stokman, manager of the Early Morning Centre, is also witnessing the scenario of destitute people arriving from north of Canberra in colder months.

“It’s really bizarre, it really is quite odd, we’re certainly noticing it at the moment,’’ she said.

“At the moment we are seeing more new people at breakfast or the drop in centre.

‘‘I have talked to some other groups, we all have similar stories ….we’ve all talked in the past week about the number of people new to Canberra.

‘‘We get people who just get off the bus at the Jolimont Centre, with nowhere to go to, no accommodation, no job, no money, they just arrive.’’

The Roadhouse is run by the Red Cross three nights a week, with the Masons and Hari Krishna responsible for the evening meal for one night each.

When park rangers spot newcomers to Canberra sleeping rough, they alert Vinnies’ Street to Home program. Co-ordinator Lesley Bonney said the program’s policy was ‘‘assertive outreach’’.

‘‘We go looking for people who are sleeping rough,’’ she said. '‘Rough sleepers are very itinerant, they come from all over Australia to Canberra.

‘‘We will endeavour to keep them safe on the streets and we work with caravan parks and may put someone into a tent until we can look for some sort of transitional housing,’’ she says.

‘‘If they haven’t got a tent, we would give them a tent, a swag and blankets.’’