• Tamara Penniket | ABC NEWS
  • News

Homelessness in Canberra is often closer to home than people think

Photo Left: Tim and his dog live on the street in Canberra. Right: Sanda keeps warm drinking coffee. (ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

When accounting graduate Sanda recently became homeless, he realised the world of opportunity that comes with tertiary education does not guarantee a secure future.

"Life is not like everything is planned," he said.

The Sri Lankan-born man, who wished not to use his surname, graduated from university in Canberra.

But, like many others who find themselves sleeping rough or living on the street, he warned a few bad decisions or hard times could lead to anyone becoming homeless.

As the Canberra winter set in and temperatures plummeted, having a roof over his head became his priority.

It was a situation made worse without strong family or friendship connections — compounded with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Sanda had been "feeling alright" in the week he had been sober. "If I have to stay on the road, I will go back to drinking," he said.

Rather than drinking alcohol to keep warm, Sanda said he drinks multiple cups of coffee a day — mostly provided by the Uniting Church's Early Morning Centre on Northbourne Avenue.

He had also taken advantage of their free breakfasts and hot showers in preparation for meetings to discuss securing permanent accommodation.

PHOTO: Grant takes refuge in a concealed nook between city buildings. (ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Grant — originally from Melbourne — did not wish to be photographed.

He said many people who became homeless often did not reveal the full extent of their story for fear of being criticised for their decisions.

He said they felt deeply ashamed — something only made worse when passers-by treated them poorly.

Being visibly homeless made living on the street even harder, he added.

Instead, he took refuge in a concealed nook between city buildings, with an overhang to stay dry and ever-so-slightly warmer.

Grant said hiding also reduced the likelihood of having his things ransacked by other homeless people or drug addicts, or having the authorities move him on.

Like many others who find themselves experiencing homelessness, family violence had played a role in his life.

As a child, Grant was physically abused by his father and, without other family, he grew up in a boys' home.

He said, from there, it only took a couple of bad decisions before he was in a downward spiral.

As an adult he spent time in jail and since his release has found getting a job a challenge.

But Grant said falling out with his partner and losing access to his daughter was his worst experience.

"I feel a world of pain," he said.

Read the full story on the ABC website.


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What we want to achieve in the long-term in a perfect world. ACT Shelter believes that housing is a human right. Our vision is that everyone’s home be recognised as the safe, secure, affordable, sustainable foundation to well-being.


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