Sue Jordan of St John's Care in one of their grocery storage rooms. Photo: Rohan Thomson
St John's Care director Sue Jordan has scoffed at the idea Canberra is largely a comfortable and middle-class city as her organisation prepares to team up with youth homeless service YouthCARE Canberra.
''Come and spend a day with me - that would change your mind. Canberra is not middle-class,'' Mrs Jordan said.
Each weekday, St John's Care volunteers give out donated food to the needy in its ''supermarket without a register'' in the hall behind the church in Reid, at the coalface of the national capital's underclass.
''These are people who come in and say, 'I cannot feed my family','' Mrs Jordan said.
In recent days, the service has had contact with a young homeless African refugee brought in by police. He was wearing a T-shirt and shorts and no shoes. There was no room for him at Canberra's one shelter for homeless single men. The volunteers gave him some warm clothes, shoes and food and had to send him back on to the streets.
Then there is the case of 14 people living in a three-bedroom home in Kaleen - three adults and 11 children aged from 12 years to four months. There is understandably friction. A single mother with her five children have to move out. She has nowhere to go. St John's Care is working to find her emergency accommodation.
Last year, St John's Care, the outreach unit of St John's Anglican parish, provided food for more than 6000 people. It has shelves stacked with donated items. Mothers come in with children who are kept home from school because they have nothing to take for lunch. About 80 people attend its monthly free lunch.
The service works to ensure no one is excluded, all people are treated with dignity and respect and they are not judged.
''The first question they are asked when they come in is, 'Would you like a tea or coffee?' Not, 'What do you want?''' Mrs Jordan said.
YouthCARE Canberra will be teaming up with St John's Care so the services can support each other's clients.
Youth workers are being recruited by YouthCARE Canberra so they can reach the young people, those aged 12 to 25, who might seek help via St John's Care. YouthCARE Canberra chairman Paul Kane said it was estimated on any given night in the capital, about 100 young people were homeless.
''Some 'couch-surf' with friends, others face a night on the streets or are hidden away in the bushlands," he said.
Mr Kane said St John's Care was another way to access young people in need.
"This will place our youthcare workers in the front line when clients visit for food, clothing and other basic necessities," he said.
"There are families among them, including young people at risk of homelessness. This gives our dedicated youth workers an early start to break the nexus between poverty, family dysfunction, drug and alcohol issues and homelessness.''
Mr Kane also announced that a retired chief justice of the ACT Supreme Court, Terence Higgins, had agreed to become the patron of YouthCARE Canberra.
"We are delighted that his lengthy and unstinting commitment to youth homelessness has been recognised with his agreement to become our patron,'' he said.