Couple offer hope with home for homeless men
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Couple offer hope with home for homeless men

A Yass husband and wife drawn to helping hard and sometimes hopeless causes are getting strong support from the Canberra region.

Glenn and Ros Stewart's latest project is restoring an 1895, red-brick worker's cottage in Murrumburrah, west of Canberra, for crisis accommodation for homeless men.

Founders of drop-in centre Zac's House, Glenn and Ros Stewart, have a five-year lease on an 1895 workers cottage in Harden.

Founders of drop-in centre Zac's House, Glenn and Ros Stewart, have a five-year lease on an 1895 workers cottage in Harden.

In the 1870s, when steam trains failed to haul wool and wheat up a long hill from the bottom of a valley in Murrumburrah, another railway station was built at the top of the hill where rail wagons were loaded. Sheds were built and a new town, Harden, sprang up around the station.

Harden has overshadowed Murrumburrah ever since. Side by side, the two little towns have separate churches, schools and plenty of empty buildings.

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After negotiating a five-year, rent-free lease from the worker's cottage owners, the Stewarts have talked an ACT kitchen supplier into giving them an old kitchen he replaced at Fadden. Another Canberra family has adopted the weed-infested garden that surrounds the three-bedroom home.

Looking like a dump from the street, it has ornate cedar skirting boards and architraves and timber sash windows. Broad wooden floorboards appeared when they lifted the carpet, which reeked of "100 years of life".

Mrs Stewart has talked a Wagga business into donating a hot water service. When a roofer heard their story, he volunteered to straighten up the bullnose verandah.

The St Vincent de Paul Society's director for special works, Shannon Pickles, says that in towns such Harden, Young and Yass with scarce social support services, people in need get stuck with tough choices.

"They either have to stay where they are or they are almost forced to travel to one of those regional hub towns, either Canberra or Goulburn, where they may be able to access mental health, drug and alcohol supports.

"Men especially don't like to admit when things are going bad, when they feel stressed. In the country, the manly, blokey thing to say is you are OK when you are not."

The Stewarts began their charitable mission while travelling in the United Kingdom and working at Zac's Place in Wales. It is this half-way house that they have sought to replicate at Yass.

"Zac's Place is where people can feel safe, come as they are - it doesn't matter if you are high or under the influence of alcohol, preferably not," Mr Stewart said.

This put them in contact with the owners of the Harden cottage, which they will call Baza's House in memory of a friend who died recently.

"We put every one down the same, two-lane highway in society, but people are different - miles to the east and west of that," Mr Stewart said.

Mrs Stewart said they wanted Baza's House restored to a good standard to show respect for newcomers, no matter their backgrounds. "I think people always try and rise to your high expectations," she said.

John Thistleton is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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