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Canberra student sleeps rough for a good cause

Laura Peppas

Tonight, while most Canberrans retreat to their warm, comfortable beds, Joseph Frawley will grab a blanket, brave the cold and spend the night in his car.

It’s become a daily ritual for the 25 year old student for the past seven weeks; and it’s all to raise money for the St Vincent de Paul Society’s Clemente higher education program, which enables people who have experienced homelessness, family breakdown, addictions, mental health issues or disabilities to access a higher education program.

The program receives no government funding and costs St Vincent de Paul approximately $2,000 to put a student through a semester.

So far Joseph has raised over $13,000 to go towards the program whilst completing his Law Honours thesis at the Australian National University, and plans to continue to sleep in his car every night until October 20, when his thesis is due.

He says the initiative to raise money came when he was working as an intern at St Vincent de Paul.

“I saw the amazing work they were doing, and saw it as an opportunity to help others,” Joseph says.

“As someone who is lucky enough to study, I wanted to put myself at a little bit of a disadvantage to try and imagine what some people really have to go through whilst also raising money and awareness.”

Joseph has been documenting his experiences through short videos and a blog, where people can follow his experiences and struggles.

“I think the challenges are very real and obvious, but to actually experience them is very different,” he says.

“There’s a physical reduction of space, you can’t get physically comfortable or relaxed, your sleep is interrupted, it’s cold, you have to dress in extra layers and mentally prepare yourself, you’ve also got factors and noise, also light, now I don’t have to choice but to wake up with the sun.

“I think it’s important to note however that this sleepout is very symbolic, not authentic. I have a wonderful group of people who are willing to pay for food, I’m able to shower and hold down two part time jobs, and I have social support, whereas if I was homeless I wouldn’t have that support to rely on. I think it would be very difficult if you had to do this and try and be a functioning member of society.”

In the past year, almost 3700 people sought help for homelessness in the ACT, up 65 per cent in five years.

“If you have the thought of ‘where will I sleep tonight’ constantly hanging over you, there is no contentment or inner peace because everywhere you go will be filled with anxiety over a lack of security, warmth and a sense of home or being,” says Joseph.

“So there is an added emotional element that this experience has proven to me that has proved both very powerful and very upsetting.”

Joseph says he has been “surprised and humbled” by the community’s generosity.

“There are incredibly warm-hearted people out there, and it’s a nice feeling to be able to say, ‘I’m going to direct my energy to a generous cause, and connect people to that cause,’” he says.

To donate, please visit!state=act&appeal=81

Images courtesy of Joe’s Instagram, where he documents his sleepout progress. 


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

  • Sarah

    Thumbs up for Joseph!