Homelessness is more than just rooflessness. A home provides a sense of security, stability, privacy and safety.
The Early Morning Centre (EMC) is a project of the Canberra City Uniting Church congregation, operating under UnitingCare. For over ten years, they have provided essential services to people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness and people experiencing social isolation.
The EMC started with the idea of providing breakfast for homeless people in the city. There was a trial run in 2004 just after Christmas, and then the Centre officially opened in 2005 with a small kitchenette and social area. By 2008, though a grant they were able to renovate to provide more services, including toilets, showers, lockers, a proper kitchen and laundry facilities.
Serving free breakfast five days a week, the EMC goes beyond the basics and operates afterwards the Community Hub until 2:00 pm with hot beverages, internet services, and mailbox. They also provide a range of services throughout the week including legal services and current affairs, all Centrelink matters (having a staff member onsite one day a week), medical clinic, dental van, bingo, pet service, cooking classes and library among others.
Nicole Wiggins, Director of the Early Morning Centre, who has worked in the community sector in Canberra for over 20 years and has led the Centre for over three years now told Insights that in one month about 2,300 people attend to any of the services. The EMC also provides up to 800 breakfasts and 700 lunches during the same period. More than 100 people use the showers/toilets service, and over 30 people go to see the doctor per month. She stated that the most popular service provided is the internet, but at the end of the day, most people attend the Centre to interact with others and socialise, that is why many people attend social events, such as cooking classes, bingos and BBQs. All of the services provided are free, and for most of them, they do not even require an ID.
Regarding the age of the guests attending, Wiggings stated that about half of them are over 45 years of age, 38 percent are between 25 to 45 years of age, and very few are under 25. These stats are only during breakfast since they do not measure the age of attendees to other services, but generally speaking, the average age of the gests is very similar for all other services provided.
One of the most important events of the year is Homeless Connect, an event that goes throughout the country, where over 40 agencies including Saint Vincent de Paul, Financial Counselling, and Catholic Care among others join their efforts and travel throughout the country to lighten the stress and anxiety that living without a home or experiencing isolation brings to many people nationwide. This year the event took place during a nice and warm spring day bringing together a couple of hundred people to enjoy free haircuts, clothes swap and free entertainment throughout the day. About 45 services came along.
The ACT government provides about 75 percent of EMC costs, and the rest is funded through donations and fundraising events. The Uniting Church owns the premises and does not charge any rent, many of its members are volunteers and part of the management committee board. They also run the fundraising group Friends of the Early Morning Centre, which hosts some of the most significant fundraising events to finance the project.
If you would like to find out more about homelessness in Australia, you can visit Homelessness Australia’s website.
Talk about the EMC to your friends, family and colleagues. Help raise awareness of the issues faced by people experiencing homelessness.
To find out more about the Early Morning Centre, their activities or how to contribute go to https://www.emc.org.au/.