By Andrew Klein
I spent last night sleeping ‘rough’ behind a row of shops in the outer eastern suburbs. Not because I like sleeping rough, but to get a clear picture of that which is available to the many hidden homeless that do the best they can.
It was a cold and miserable night, Donna lay on the back seat in her blanket and we both had the luxury of being in a car. Looking suitably ‘poor’ and ‘homeless’ I found myself quickly moved on when I tried to get a cup of coffee, a little company and warmth in the much marketed multinational venue marketing food!
“You are making others feel uncomfortable,“ with a hint to finish my coffee and take my two bags (specially packed).
I then tried to find a toilet, topping up the car with a couple of dollars of fuel. “Sorry, mate, we keep the toilets locked, its company policy.” Turns out that the area is regarded as a ‘high crime area‘ according to company policy, although I cannot find an indication of this in the reports written by the local police command.
Used the ‘Ask Izzy’ app to see if there are any service providers in the area. I typed in the age group, ticked the box re homeless, looking for a meal and crisis assistance.
I know that there is one service provider that opens from 9 am and runs to 5 pm. They are nice people and I have met their manager. They provide food hampers (cans, instant soup and such like) and if I need a shower they will give me a voucher to the local ‘Aquatic Centre’. Having discussed the homelessness crisis with that service provider I know that their funding has been cut and that they are seriously stretched. I also know that if I needed clothing, they will give me a voucher to take to a small op shop in Bayswater where the caring volunteers will do their best. They have had their funding cut! If I was hungry, there are a couple of places further out where I could find a meal and maybe some human company. The real problem is one of actually getting there and one is only open for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon. Friday is a long time away, had I no car I would be facing serious problems even getting there.
Thankfully I am not ‘homeless’! There are few services for men that find themselves simply homeless and not suffering from drug addiction or other substance abuse, they just do not exist. So I have to claim some form of dependence problem, maybe ad a mental health crisis to get some practical support.
I walked into a medical centre seeking advice as to counselling and guidance regarding a mental health care plan (as I do know people that are in urgent need of such). Of course these services are available; I can get medical care if I have a Health Care Card otherwise I’ll have to find the cash to pay up front. Now if I find myself suddenly homeless for a variety of reasons, I may not have any sort of card until I have worked my way through the maze of ‘service suppliers’ and Government Agencies. The receptionist at the medical centre was less than kind, that which I call the ‘gate keeper mentality’. Why should anyone be forced to share their personal trauma with a receptionist simply to get some guidance and advice?
I am sitting at home now, reflecting on the serious challenges faced by those without homes in the outer suburbs. I know from experience that had I called into the local police station and asked for advice, I would have been told to get myself a motel room; police stations are not a place to expect a welcoming smile and a cup of coffee and some ‘guidance’ in the early hours of the morning!
Then there is all that debate, such as it is, about the homelessness crisis in the Melbourne CBD. That too is very valid as there is a crisis. If I was homeless right about now I would be heading in there to try and get some assistance because I know that is where the services are.
My local member of Federal Parliament is Alan Tudge MP. I get his self-promoting flyers in my letter box. “I’m working hard to represent the people of Knox as the Federal Member for Aston. Let me know your views about any issue of concern, local or national. Minister for Human Services, Federal Member of Parliament for Aston.”
I was ever so pleased when I received the last one that informed me that he had been working hard for my interests; a highpoint of this help being the encouragement and support he offered when the local Knox Council needed a memorial board for ex- Mayors.
This morning, reflecting on the past few hours, I am underwhelmed. There is no local plan for those that are homeless, although council is prepared to share links.
That does very little for a man that is homeless in the early hours of the morning! To get anything done out here requires access to transport, access to the Internet. Heaven forfend my few ‘possessions’ were left unguarded at a railway station if I sought to take a train into the city; there are no lockers although there is a secure place for bikes at the Boronia Railway Station.
The other man that was desperately trying to get two dollars for a cuppa and is sleeping on the ground, in a car park that belongs to a shop; he had more serious problems than mine.
Homelessness is not an issue, it’s a crisis! I repeated something I did a few months ago, something I experienced a few years ago. After all the reports, after all the academic insights and opinions there is a serious national crisis that is not even being talked about in a realistic way. Maybe that is the way things are done. Lots of talk, glossy magazines and self-promoting publications giving the appearance of change whilst changing nothing.
Note: This piece was originally written in 2017.
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