Young, beautiful, driven and intelligent, it's difficult to comprehend that Canberra teenager Maja Rathouski was sleeping under bridges and in dark alleys in the national capital when she was 15. That she escaped homelessness unscathed and without falling to the temptation to drugs or alcohol. And that she has not only survived but thrived.
She can hardly believe it herself.
"There's no way back at 15 I thought I'd still be alive," she said.
In the podcast, host Bree Element talks to three Canberran women and their caseworkers who walked alongside them during their journey out of poverty.
There is also Tina, a successful woman in her 50s, who ended up sleeping at the Jolimont Centre after splitting with her husband. And there's Cassie, recently graduated from high school, who half an hour after giving birth to her son was told by her mother she could not return home if she decided to keep him.
Cassie endured abusive relationships before getting her hand up from Karinya House. Tina, who was living with HIV, was assisted by the AIDS Action Council of the ACT.
Anti-Poverty Week chairman and Red Cross ACT regional manager Mark Duggan said Canberra had "hidden poverty", with the second highest rate of homelessness in the nation. About 26,000 Canberrans suffer food stress, spending more than 30 per cent of their income on food. And 25,000 Canberrans live below the poverty line.
"The message is poverty exists and we can do something about it," Mr Duggan said, adding services were there to support people like Maja, Tina and Cassie but donations and volunteers were always needed.
Maja, now 18 and planning to join the Australian Federal Police, left her comfortable, Catholic, Croatian family one night when she was 15 because of a breakdown in the relationship with her parents. She had only a backpack, and walked out in her summer pyjamas.
"I don't think I slept so much. I think I was more walking. I slept more so in the day, and that's when people see you.
"You don't want your teachers or your friends to see you out... You haven't brushed your hair. Or brushed your teeth. You're sunburned. And you're wearing your pyjamas from five nights ago."
She couch-surfed for three months before getting into a refuge, then transitional housing and finally public housing. Her school, St John Paul II College, gave her a scholarship to finish year 11 and 12. She continued to play soccer, do army cadets and work at McDonald's, even when she was homeless. She received help from Barnardos, Anglicare and Catholic Care.
"One of the reasons I think I survived and succeeded was that I had so many people and services looking out for me and I always had to be somewhere. I was always busy," she said.
"I'm so grateful to everyone who helped keep me on track."
Maja said her parents raised her to be a strong person and it was inevitable they would clash as she was growing up. They are talking again.
"I still love and respect my parents," she said.
GIVIT, a "Gumtree for charities", helps match those in need with items they require.
GIVIT ACT manager Caroline Odgers said it produced the podcasts to raise awareness of real stories from inspiring Canberrans, their tipping points into poverty and their pathway to a better life.
Ms Odgers said while Canberrans suffered in the shadows with poverty, there were also many "generous, big-hearted Canberrans" who wanted to help them.
- Search Spotify to listen to the Unlikely podcast.