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Vinnies and ACU organise learning for the homeless

Australian Catholic University, in partnership with St Vincent de Paul Society and willing business people, has claimed to have found some of the "keenest, most grateful students ever", following Australia's first university courses for homeless people.

The courses have been taking place in a long room in Vincentian Village, East Sydney. The delivery is modelled on the Clemente program, initiated in the USA by Earl Shorris, author of Riches for the Poor who visited Australia last year.

The students, aged in their 40s, 50s and 60s, have come from a range of inner city homeless services to attend lectures by ACU National's academics, and to write their assignments with the help of business people operating as "learning partners".

Dr Judith Brophy, a member of the management committee of Vincentian Village who co-ordinates the program, said learning partners are volunteers who mostly work in Sydney's CBD, in banks, businesses and government organisations.

Vincentian Village CEO, Sue Chant, said the only pre-requisites for the courses were an ability to read the newspaper and a passion for learning. So far, ACU National's lecturers have provided University level courses on Ethics, Australian History, and Spirituality, and an Art History course is to be offered in 2005. Some 30 students have taken part so far, and word is spreading.

Homeless student Tania Hilder said she had wanted to study the humanities since she was 19, but years of work, a battle with depression and changing circumstances worked against her until now.

"A friend brought me down here," Tania said. "We have been very privileged to have been in this group. It's just a fabulous opportunity. The learning experience has taken our minds off our own problems. Everybody here's been through a hell of a lot. We support each other. This has been a wonderful community."

ACU National lecturer in the School of Religious Studies at the Strathfield Campus, Dr Graham English, who teaches habilitation students who work with people with disabilities, as well as homeless students, said: "Homeless people have the right to be able to read, and read good stuff and be part of that tradition."

Meanwhile the St Vincent de Paul Society in NSW/ACT yesterday launched its 2004 Christmas Appeal at its Waverley Centre in Sydney.

Executive Officer Owen Rogers said: "With Christmas approaching, as a community we must turn our attentions and efforts towards those people facing financial or emotional difficulties; the poor, the isolated, the frail aged, vulnerable youth, the mentally ill, the homeless, those seeking refuge and the frail aged facing another lonely day".

Representing NSW Premier Bob Carr, Coogee MP Paul Pearce presented the Society with a cheque for $20,000 .

ACU National provides lectures for people who are homeless (Australian Catholic University 11/11/04)
This Christmas, Vinnies urges you to make your presence felt (St Vincent de Paul Society NSW/ACT 10/11/04)
State Government kicks off Vinnies Christmas Appeal with $20,000 Donation (St Vincent de Paul Society 11/11/04)

ACU National
St Vincent de Paul Society
Wiggles lend valued help for Vinnies shops (Catholic Weekly 14/11/04)
Thanks for Vinnies' help (Catholic Weekly 14/11/04)
Visiting author says humanities education will give riches to homeless (CathNews 7/3/03)
Bard Clemente Program: A "Harvard-level" education for the poor (

12 Nov 2004