Warmth ... Richard Griffiths from St Columba's Uniting Church in Braddon plans to turn the community hall into a safe house for the homeless during winter. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
A controversial proposal to house the homeless in church facilities is close to reality in Canberra, more than a year after the project was first raised.
Safe Shelter's plan to accommodate people overnight in church halls was initially opposed by the government last year, when then community services minister Joy Burch voiced concerns over health and safety requirements.
However recent negotiations over the pilot project, to be run out of St Columba's Uniting Church Hall in Braddon, has given organisers approval to launch the trial in May.
Adequate fire protection improvements must first be carried out at the cost of approximately $5000, but organiser Briony Griffiths said the project had already received significant financial support.
“ClubsACT have committed to helping financially with the building certification process,” she said.
“They also have linked us up with some builders who are happy to be involved. We've just had approvals on Sunday to move ahead with that work as soon as the builders are able.”
Once launched, the project will accommodate up to eight people as well as several volunteers from 7pm to 7am. Targeted at men over the age of 18, Safe Shelter will also provide swags that the men can then take with them if required.
Though the Braddon facility will operate one night a week, Ms Griffiths hoped more churches would open their doors once the program launched.
“We're going to start with a pilot here in this one hall for this winter, but the aim is still to have other churches involved in making their halls available other nights of the week,” she said.
“We really see this as an opportunity to do it well, but also test the waters as to the need.”
Fellow organiser Richard Griffiths said the project, already successful in cities such as Brisbane in Sydney, also hopes to break down some of the stigma surrounding homelessness.
“They are totally invisible,” he said.
“Most of them are not threats.”