"I looked over the precipice and was chilled to the bone, I saw how easy it can be to fall into poverty and homelessness, I understood how it can happen to anyone" – Leith
Leith's poignant account of a crisis in her life is part of a campaign being launched this weekend. Because a good way to get in a politician's face is to present them with a personal story that shines a light on a broader theme.
Lying just below the radar in Canberra are heartbreaking stories of people who've unexpectedly found themselves being forced to sleep rough.
They may have lost their jobs, perhaps through lay-offs in the private sector or "efficiency dividends" in the public service, and suddenly discovered the once-solid foundation of their life crumbling, with nothing to break their plunge into darkness, depression and poverty.
Perhaps they're escaping domestic violence or facing discrimination because of their ethnicity.
To raise public awareness about their plight, organisations dealing every day with these disadvantaged people in the territory are launching the campaign My Vote for Housing.
It differs from your standard campaign of statistics piled on arguments piled on pleadings by presenting unvarnished stories told by members of the "invisible" army of homeless people in Canberra.
Would you believe up to 2000 people could be sleeping rough tonight in this affluent city? Or that Canberra has the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia?
Data released this week showed Canberra continues to be one of the country's most expensive cities in which to rent a home.
The Domain Rental Report for the March quarter showed Canberra's median weekly rental price was $470 during the period – the third most expensive result after Sydney and Darwin.
"Canberra is an expensive place to rent and I think that's because of higher incomes," Domain chief economist Andrew Wilson says.
It is one thing to read the facts about housing stress and another to meet the people facing it and, through their stories, spend some time in their shoes.
The campaign revolves around Stories of Home, a compilation of those stories, such as:
• Gary who went from a happy home on a property to sleeping in cars around the lakes following a relationship break-up
• Trish who was told not to bother with real estate agents after escaping from family violence and now lives in a house without heating or room for her son to play
• Peter who went from home ownership to a motorhome
• Freya who battles to find peace in a public housing estate full of noise and trouble
• Alanah who wondered where she might live if she fled an abusive relationship
• Penny whose experiences have led her to fight for older women in public housing
• Pippa and David who both work yet can't afford a house with insulation through the ever longer hot summers and cold winters.
"These are ordinary people but like all our lives, theirs aren't linear and unfold with crooked lines and broken strands," ACT Council of Social Service director Susan Helyar says.
"They show how easy it is for an illness, death in the family, a change in employment or a disability to lead to extremes of housing stress."
ACTCOSS and ACT Shelter want to get the message out on this important topic well ahead of this year's ACT election.
They have begun to pepper election candidates with information about the My Vote for Housing campaign, ahead of this weekend's launch.
One statistic they want heard clearly is this: the last census in 2011 reported a 70 per cent rise in homelessness in Canberra. The result was 1785 people were homeless in Canberra on census night.
Travis Gilbert, executive officer of ACT Shelter, says his organisation is very familiar with people facing a crisis over housing.
"Yet it is still a shock to come face to face with people who show us how close many of us are to falling off the edge of Canberra's housing market," he says.
"Our city stands on a narrow ledge indeed – homelessness is real in Canberra, it is closer than you think, about more than you think and not only about who you might think.
"There are more people than you think sleeping rough in our city during cold Canberra winters … women and young people are especially at risk."
Independent candidate for Yerrabi, Andrew Dewson, was one of the first to receive the report.
"I urge all parties and candidates to consider what ACTCOSS has identified and to put the issues of housing affordability and housing stress at the top of their agendas," he says.
"It is our responsibility as candidates and elected individuals to make sure that residents struggling to make ends meet have access to affordable and appropriate housing accommodation at any stage of their life."
Research released last month – by the peak bodies gearing up to make housing an election issue in 2016 – showed about 20,000 households in the ACT face housing stress, with single-parent households among the hardest hit.
Housing stress, defined as when individuals spend more than 30 per cent of their pay packet on housing costs, affects two in every five single-parent households in the ACT.
The research also found "a significant intersection" between gender inequality and housing inequality.
Susan Helyar is calling for the ACT Government to support tax reform.
"Negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions have been found to be driving inflation and housing prices and are not delivering increased supply to the people who need it," she says.
"We need to eliminate negative gearing and, with capital gains tax, we need to remove the preferential capital gains treatment of investments in real estate compared to investments in other forms of investment."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.