You would never have known Elaine* was sleeping in her car. She was always impeccably groomed, "in between jobs" but staying with friends after a relationship breakdown. She was smiling and optimistic, even though those jobs were looking further and further out of reach and there was alarmingly little cash - or super - to her name.
Elaine is one of many older women to fall quietly into homelessness in the capital - and, at 62 years old, sits among the fastest growing cohort at risk in the country.
At feminist community service YWCA Canberra, chief executive Frances Crimmins warns the twin pressures of pay inequality and family violence are leaving women on precarious financial ground - and require a specialised response.
On Thursday the group will launch "Next Door", a new wrap-around support service to help women like Elaine navigate a path back to secure housing. As part of a $1.9 million grant from the ACT government over the next four years, the program will offer case management and guidance to women over 50 - from organising interest-free bond loans to sourcing donated washing machines for moving day.
While the money will not fund any additional supported housing places, Ms Crimmins said the organisation would work with Housing ACT as well as its own pool of four properties available to older women to search for suitable vacancies.
"We need more permanent housing but this is still a great step by the government, they've [recognised] that older women have different needs," Ms Crimmins said. "A lot of it is about dignity and finding the right place to stay or appropriate work. You might [not have] the skills you need if you've spent your whole life caring for others. But standing up all day at Woolworths isn't going to work for someone who might have illhealth."
While much had been said in recent years about the "tsunami" of older women now entering the homelessness system, Ms Crimmins said services had been warning of the problem for decades.
"But we're still not closing the wealth gap for women," she said.
Housing Minister Yvette Berry said the problem had emerged starkly during the development of the ACT's new housing strategy, which will see millions spent on growing public housing over the next few years.
"This cohort are over-represented among low income people but are much less likely to seek support and often remain outside the reach of the services," Ms Berry said.
She also flagged the government was considering its future housing mix, after a recent report echoed warnings from the sector about a bottleneck in crisis accommodation.
The study, by University of Queensland researchers, called for immediate access to long-term housing, alongside both improved outreach to find those at risk and then support services to keep them in homes.
One of the study's authors Cameron Parsell said the system was particularly failing those with complex service needs, who often had to contend with several levels of referrals and conditions as well as long waiting lists before getting into secure housing.
He pointed to systems like the Common Ground in Brisbane, where outreach workers assessed people on the spot with iPad forms and got them straight off the street into a longer-term spot.
"The rest of the paperwork can come later," he said. "If you're there needing support, we're not going to have made a mistake in helping you."
While the study itself was even slowed down by government bureaucracy, Associate Professor Parsell said its recommendations did still seem to hit home for Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
"I was not painting a good news story here, the system is not working for these people and we need to change it rather than trying to make them adapt," he said.
"But he really seemed enthusiastic about changing things, about making government departments, whether that's health or justice, more integrated with housing [to stop] people falling through [the cracks].
"The ACT could be a leader in this space."
At Safe Shelter, which opens Canberra's churches and halls to men sleeping rough during winter, Richard Griffiths agreed referrals into longer-term housing needed to be radically simplified to truly build a system that put housing first.
"The guys we see are exhausted from all the paperwork, going to appointments, many just give up before they get there," he said.
According to the latest government data, those seeking help waited more than 30 days on average for a bed in the ACT between January and March, with waiting lists for support overall almost doubling compared to the same time last year.
Ms Berry has previously said the government is wary of building more crisis beds, instead favouring longer-term places, but Mr Griffiths said people doing it tough needed somewhere to go while permanent housing was built.
At YWCA, Cara Jacobs said women who were not immediately fleeing violence could find it difficult to get into refuges already bursting at the seams.
"We have a woman who fled and has been house-sitting for years to get by, but she's not assessed as being homeless even though she has no where permanent to go," Ms Jacobs said.
But, mostly the sector worked together to intervene when women and families were in need, she said.
In recent months, the ACT government had leased a property to YWCA below market value to accommodate a mother and nine children fleeing domestic violence with no other options.
"We're working with another complex family at the moment and we think we'll find another solution like that," Ms Jacobs said.
Since launching Rentwell, which offers tax incentives to landlords leasing properties below market rent, in May, Ms Crimmins said YWCA had already managed to house a family and three women.
"We've had more than 50 inquiries from landlords and [more still] from prospective tenants," she said.
"Some people will always need support but some people just need more affordable housing."
"The erosion of specialist and gendered services is a real problem, we've seen it in NSW [and in the ACT] in the past, but it's great now to see a response that's flexible. [The ACT government] has really listened."
Last week the first property in Canberra funded by not-for-profit Homes for Homes was opened to two women over 55 at risk of homelessness.
*Not her real name