I spend a lot of time in Melbourne’s CBD. Part of spending time in the city is being asked for spare change by those who are in serious need of money; for housing, food and other basics. I have strong conflicting feelings about giving money to those people who as for it… am I supporting a system which neglects people’s basic needs, plugging a gap that a proper welfare system would fill, or am I doing the right thing by providing a little of what these people lack so badly – money? I’m not particularly wealthy, but I am comfortable, can pay my bills and rent on time, and don’t have to scrounge for coins to shop for food in the days before payday (unlike my full-time student days). Life is good for me, and I give to charities as well as, at times, those who ask for money informally on the street. Another kind of charity. It is so sad that there are people who are so neglected and ignored by society and our social safety nets. But what to do, and how to prevent this from happening in the first place?
Through the time I’ve spent in the city, and my interactions with those who find themselves living in the streets of the city, I’ve come to know a few all too familiar faces. I get alarmed when there is a new face I haven’t seen before, and watch in moments of sadness, hopelessness, as their health and general outlook worsen. One particular character I’ve come to know a little is a friendly guy who doesn’t fit any of the priority categories for homelessness services – he doesn’t have a mental health problem, a drug abuse problem, he isn’t under 25. He’s not a woman experiencing domestic violence. Of course, none of these factors guarantee assistance when it’s required, but currently, he can’t find many services that can even consider helping him. Probably, even if he did fall into any of those categories he would still face long wait times for assistance. I think this is his second Melbourne winter on the street, and he has aged markedly in this time, unsurprisingly. For me, his story highlights the need to ensure not only that we prioritise service delivery to those who are most in need, but to all of those who need it. Homelessness, in and of itself, should be a priority category all on its own.