It started with a student pitching a tent by the lake. Then, in April, the money ran out.
The ANU Postgraduate and Research Students' Association has sounded the alarm on housing options for postgraduate students, after eating through its entire annual budget for emergency accommodation in less than four months due to surging demand.
This year, the association was awarded $5000 from the university to put up students in crisis in temporary accommodation, at a cost of about $30 a night per student.
Association president Alyssa Shaw said this was the first year they had run out of money, but they would continue to provide the service, pooling funds from other areas in their budget while they negotiated with the university for extra support.
In February, a survey of more than 700 postgraduate students at ANU found 57 per cent didn't have accommodation secured before moving to Canberra. Almost 10 per cent were homeless or at risk of homelessness at the time of the survey.
"It's really quite terrifying," Ms Shaw said.
"We were inundated after the survey, requests for help with accommodation increased at least seven-fold.
"Someone slept outside our office."
But, despite putting urgent recommendations to the university, the association said the ANU had yet to formally acknowledge the problem.
A university spokeswoman said the ANU was looking at boosting accommodation options for postgraduate students, including those with children, and would consider the key recommendations from the association's report.
Deputy vice-chancellor Marnie Hughes-Warrington said the university hoped to eventually provide accomodation for every student who wanted it. At least 2000 beds were available on campus, she said, and an average of 400 more would be built each year over the next three.
While the university guarantees a bed for a range of undergraduate students, postgraduates do not have the same security and are often ineligible for government supports, Ms Shaw said.
One student, who asked not to be named, recalled the "depressing" moment he realised he would have to sleep at the university library earlier this year, after moving to Canberra from India to study.
"Uni had started but I still had no where to go, my friend and I must have looked at least 75 share houses," he said.
"We took a tooth brush and a few clothes and we found ourselves living in the library ... it was mentally really tiring, agonising.
"There was no privacy, we didn't have a place to relax, the librarians would wake us up to kick us out. We've finally found a place now ... but my exams aren't going to go well after [this]."
Association vice president Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope supported the university's plans to build extra student halls, but said more needed to be done to "bridge the gap" for those struggling in the interim, such as forging relationships with local realtors.
His own "intimate" experience with Canberra's rental market had brought him face to face with an itinerary of dilapidated houses, some subdivided in strange, even dangerous ways, with front doors and hallways blocked off, pipes sticking out of walls and, in one case, no windows. Other landlords had been just as brazen, charging illegal fees.
A group of international students were swindled out of $5000 earlier in the year, paying a bond for a house that didn't exist.
Like Mr Hovenga-Wauchope, Victoria Thomas went to more than 50 home inspections when she moved to Canberra to start her PhD. At one apartment, the line snaked out the door and down the street.
In the end, she and her partner, who works full-time, had to tack on an extra $10 in rent each week to secure somewhere to stay.
"I was shocked at how tough it was and I definitely had it a lot easier than a lot of people," Ms Thomas said.
"I've heard of people pitching tents, or having to live really far out from the uni."
Requests for housing support had slowed at the association in the past few weeks, Ms Shaw said, but they would approach the university for extra funds soon.
The ANU has one of the highest rates of students living on campus, more than 20 per cent of its cohort last year.
A University of Canberra spokeswoman said demand for its own campus accommodation was also strong, with more than 87 per cent of its 2700 beds full.
A new lodge which opened last year was expected to meet accommodation needs until at least 2020.
"We are aware of only one case where a postgraduate international student experienced difficulty finding family accommodation," the spokeswoman said, adding the student was offered university assistance.