Winter has just begun in Australia and snow has already fallen on the ski fields. Yet under a bridge in Melbourne, 19 year old Alicia sits in her tent, surrounded by books. Her meagre possessions include a camp stove, a mattress and a two-piece business suit hanging up in a dry cleaner suit bag.
She's been homeless for three years but is currently studying Year 11 at RMIT University campus which offers Year 11 and 12 subjects. Unlike normal high schools, she doesn't have to go to assemblies and most of her work can be done in class but she also spends time at the State Library, the Youth Projects Homeless Centre or studies in her tent by lamplight.
In the morning, Alicia and her boyfriend walk to a drop-in centre for breakfast and then she travels to class in the city five days a week.
She dreams of becoming a criminologist. "I'm not one of those people who want to get married and have kids" she said. "I want to start my career first."
Youth Projects chair Melanie Raymond was shocked when Melanie came to the drop-in centre one afternoon to do her homework. "All she asked me for was a couple of highlighter pens, some folders and some paper clips" she said. "If you can stick Year 11 under a bridge, you're as tough as nails - I would employ anyone who has overcome that adversity."
Alicia currently survives on $360 a fortnight which is shared between four homeless people. "I always run out, I'm dead broke now" she said.
The black two-piece suit was donated two months ago when she was asked to attend a tour of the Melbourne Magistrates Court. "It makes an incredible difference" she said. "You feel so much better."