Common Ground public housing opens in Gungahlin to help end homelessness

Common Ground public housing opens in Gungahlin to help end homelessness

Just six months ago, Josh Rourke was living in a tent in the back yard of a man he met on the bus.

On Monday, the 23-year-old became the proud tenant of a new one-bedroom apartment overlooking Gungahlin, and he can barely hide his excitement.

Josh Rourke in fellow tenant Grant Wilson's Common Ground apartment.

Josh Rourke in fellow tenant Grant Wilson's Common Ground apartment.Credit:Jamila Toderas

"It's beautiful; I'm shocked, astounded, awed. I love it, it's awesome," he said.

"It came with a fridge, TV, lounge, bed, everything; they gave me a food pack when I got here, they [the Canberra Quilters] made quilts for everyone.

Josh Rourke with fellow Common Ground tenant Grant Wilson at the official opening on Friday.

Josh Rourke with fellow Common Ground tenant Grant Wilson at the official opening on Friday.Credit:Jamila Toderas

"I'm right on the corner so I've got panoramic views."

Mr Rourke's apartment is one of 40 in the $17-million Common Ground project, an initiative negotiated as part of the ACT parliament's Labor-Greens agreement and unveiled on Friday to combat homelessness in Canberra.

Half of the units are set aside for tenants who have experienced long-term homelessness, and the others are offered as affordable rental accommodation.

Since early June, 17 residents have moved in and more will gradually join them.

"I've lived everywhere: in refuges, share houses, two-bedroom apartments with 13 people and their dog," he said.

"I've seen the worst of the worst and now I'm living in the best of the best."

Mr Rourke pays $67 a week (equivalent to 25 per cent of his Newstart allowance), and a bond to live in the apartment, the same as other public housing in Canberra.

"A lot of people have gone out of their way and gone into bat for me," he said.

"Being here completely changes my moods and everything; it's a complete life-changer.

"I haven't really had contact with my parents very much because of my lifestyle, but now that I've been here I've been in contact with both mum and my dad and they seem pretty happy and proud for me to be here."

The ACT contributed $13 million to the project including the site, worth more than $2 million. Another $4 million came from the federal government.

ACY Housing Minister Yvette Berry said the collaborative project showed what could be achieved when government, business, the community sector and the wider community worked together.

"It's not a crisis service or shelter to homeless people, it's a permanent housing solution," she said.

"[It's] different from traditional homelessness support services because it locates safe and secure accommodation directly with vital supports and services that are critical to helping tenants get the support they need to help break the cycle of homelessness."

Mr Rourke said the project had the potential to reduce stigma about public housing and he hoped it stopped people stereotyping tenants.

"A large proportion of people in [public] housing are just people who are genuinely struggling," he said.

"They're families, they're young, old, all types; the bad ones are the ones that get noticed and unfortunately make a name for the rest of us."

Ms Berry said the project was made possible through support from groups like the Canberra Quilters, the Uniting Church Gungahlin, Majura Men's Shed, Orana Steiner School, and CWA.

After financial woes forced him to abandon study for a community services certificate II, Mr Rourke now hopes the fresh start will help him further his song-writing career.

He is working with youth advocacy group the CREATE Foundation to produce an album and set up a radio station.

"I've performed at the Legislative Assembly twice now, because the songs I write are inspiring and uplifting CREATE asked me to write a couple of songs for the album," he said.

Clare Colley is Head of Audience Engagement at The Australian Financial Review. She was previously an online editor, arts editor and journalist at The Canberra Times.

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