Pink Sleepbus delivers a home for women
Tuggeranong Uniting Church is part of a new partnership providing a safe night sleep for women sleeping rough in Canberra. Minister Rev Elizabeth Raine tells the story.
Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine
The Uniting Church has been on the ground supporting people without a home in Canberra for some time.
Homeless men in particular have been supported under the Safe Shelter scheme over the past decade. The Uniting Church has been at the forefront of this support with overnight sleeping available at St Columba’s church hall in Braddon and breakfast and associated services available each morning at Canberra City Church in Civic.
For some time though I’ve been concerned about where women who are homeless find shelter at night. The limited spaces available in homeless shelters mean that many sleep rough—in door alcoves, under bushes, or, for the more fortunate, in their car, or couch surfing in the homes of friends. Until now. Until the coming of the Pink Sleepbus.
Tuggeranong Uniting Church has partnered with the National Council of Women in the ACT to operate a Sleepbus service for women only based in the southside of the national capital.
The Pink Sleepbus will be the first of its kind—offering safe sleeping for women, including women with children, as well as associated services such as breakfast and information about local services.
When I ministered at City and St Columba’s, I was able to see the value of “stop-gap” services—limited as they may be.
They don’t solve the housing crisis for society, but they do offer support, care, and nourishment for those who live on the streets.
When I moved Tuggeranong, I began exploring with the Church Council how the Congregation might reach out to needs in the community.
Aware that more than half the homeless in Canberra are currently women, we began exploring ways we could help. Older single women are the largest growing cohort of homeless people in the ACT. In the southside of Canberra about 40 people are sleeping rough every night.
As compassionate people of faith, that situation is a real concern.
When I read the Bible, I see that God charged the people of Israel with providing specal care for the vulnerable members of society—widows and orphans, with no males to protect and support them—as well as the “aliens in the land”, foreigners residing in Israel. In his teachings, Jesus praises “whoever gives a cup of water to drink” (Mark 9:41), and in the parable of the sheep and the goats he indicates that whenever you shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, and give a drink tot the thirsty, “you did it to me” (Matt 25:35–40).
We became aware of the possibility of hosting a Sleepbus just for women. Already the “Blue Sleepbus” was operating in Queanbeyan, with beds available for men and women.
Juanita Flett from the National Council of Women in the ACT spearheaded a fundraising drive in late 2019, raising the $100,000 required to bring a Sleepbus to the area. Our Pink Sleepbus is ready to roll.
It can sleep up to 22 women each night—each in their own separate pod. Each pod is air-conditioned and comes with a mattress, pillows, sheets, blankets (washed daily), USB charging, lockable door and a television with a special channel showing services in the area for pathways out of homelessness.
The bus also has a special purpose-built larger pod that can cater for women with children, with two double bunks in its own area.
Inmates from the ACT Corrective Services unit, the Alexander Maconochie Centre, have been making sheets, quilt covers and pet beds for the bus.
The women are met each night by volunteers from local service groups and workers from employers who have a community service scheme. The pods are cleaned thoroughly each morning by a new set of volunteers, and fresh linen is provided for each night’s stay.
So we’re hoping that those women who are housed in very vulnerable circumstances can find a place on the Pink Sleepbus to at least get a good night’s sleep, clear their heads, think properly, and hopefully access services that will give them a more permanent solution to their situation. That’s the least we can do for them.
Given a leading cause of homelessness for women is escaping violence, the Sleepbus has a number of safety features.
“Given the extra challenges that this presents for those women, having a trained caretaker on hand at all times is important,” says Juanita Flett.
“The bus is surrounded by CCTV. At night, the pods are completely blacked out, so you can’t see into them—nobody could know who is in a particular pod. All the CCTV cameras are connected to the caretaker’s cabin, and there is also security on call.”
The front of the bus has its own self-contained section, where a caretaker sleeps at night. If the situation requires, the bus can be driven to a safer location.
The Pink Sleepbus will be stationed at Tuggeranong Uniting Church’s car park for three nights a week —Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
We expect it will take some time to build up the service, for people to develop a trust in the volunteers who meet them. We want people to know that if you’re sleeping rough and you’re not getting a good night sleep, you don’t need to keep doing that. You can sleep on the Sleepbus, have a good breakfast, and be pointed to some of the local services that can assist you longer-term.
Almost 100 people attended the Pink Sleepbus launch on Saturday 19 June in the car park of the Tuggeranong Uniting Church in Wanniassa, with people from the Uniting Church, the National Council of Women ACT, and a number of local service organisations including SeeChange, Rotary, Lions, Communities At Work, and others. Local members Nicole Lawder and Mark Parton attended the launch.
The bus is sponsored by ICON Water and some other local businesses, and is named after the late Sue Schreiner, feminist, lawyer, and ACT community activist. Ms Schreiner, the first woman from the ACT to be admitted to the New South Wales Bar, was a staunch advocate for finding solutions to homelessness.
For information on Sleepbus, see
To contribute to the costs of the Canberra Pink Sleepbus, go to