Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Update; My encounter with Sydney's homeless

Today I skated into town, as there was a break in stormy-ness, so I thought I would run the gauntlet.
And run I did, and I didn't even fall off. Bonus. It was a beautiful afternoon with the sun shining and rush-hour had struck. I had worked my way in to Sydney's central business district (CBD)and had successfully 5F-Ninja's myself a copy of 'The Winner's Bible' and a travel guide or two, when I walked past a homeless guy sat on the corner of the street, outside of a department store.

Doing homeless runs back in the UK, I thought I would chat to this guy and see Sydney from another perspective, perhaps one that would oppose that of the all-singing, all-dancing corporate Christmas set-ups all around me.
Yes, Australia celebrates Christmas just as corporately as the USA and the UK. Even though the chance of snow here is ridiculous.

So there we were, chatting away, and this guy, we'll call him 'Bob', was telling me about how the heroin addicts make their money.
His pitch consisted of about 3 blankets, a battered suitcase, a crate filled with old newspapers and scrawlings of various bits of arithmetic, probably evidence of efforts at retaining what sanity he still possessed, and there he sat, barefoot, in a large t-shirt and dirty trousers, bearded with grey hair, caught in the sun's rays as if it were a homeless spotlight.

People walked by, and in my peripherals, I could tell they were amazed that a kid with a skateboard was stopping, talking to this guy instead of giving him abuse. One Asian guy was taking photos of us with his lomography camera. That pissed me off for two reasons; 1) Because I own one of those fuckers, and 2) because he was 10 feet from plucking up the balls to get an explanation, or at least an insight, as to what the situation really was here.
Well, I don't know what his motives were. But my gut instinct was he was just a hipster taking it for show. Who knows.

Bob pointed to a guy across the street, who he told me, believe it or not, already had accommodation. However, because of his addiction he would need in excess of $140 a day, most he would get from begging, and as Bob also told me, from taking a cut as the middleman in various Heroin deals across the city.
The addict would set up a deal, but make the customer pay for the taxi ride there, and buy a block of gear for the customer and himself. Thus, he would get his gear and a cut from the dealer.

Now Bob wasn't a small guy, but the fact a randomer came past and shouted 'He looks well fed to me!' really just summed up the fact that even though I like this city and the average person is more friendly than back home, people can be just as ignorant, regardless of the amount of sunshine per year.
And yeah, Bob did have a massive beer gut, but I wasn't there to discuss sugar content in a can of Fosters. I could care less about people's dietary situation, especially if they're sat on the corner of a road holding a sign saying 'please help, massive family to feed, thanks, Bob'.

I didn't want to pry into Bob's personal life, why and how he got on to the streets was none of my business. But in talking to these people, if you have a relatively good judgement of character, you can figure out if their situation is temporary or if they have no intentions of fitting back in with society, if they're an addict etc etc.

I asked Bob if he got his food from the dumpsters, and in asking this, he seemed quite shocked; a little short of offended perhaps. 'Oh, I don't get food from bins' he said. I laughed to myself. Yes, there are even homeless people on the planet who will not let themselves eat from a bin, due to what I would term 'pride-issues'.
What was funny is that Bob later told me that there are other homeless people he knows that are, I quote, 'Too proud to eat from the food wagons' (food wagons come round each day, like a portable soup kitchen). Ah, the joys of ignorance and hypocrisy.
Still, I told him that I eat better than most of the rich folk surrounding us as we spoke, some weeks getting in excess of £100 of food. But he was quick to defend his case, blaming the heat for spreading bacteria on the bin food etc. My impression was, and accurate I believe it to be, that Bob had never rummaged through a dumpster in his life.

Isn't it funny, that even as the 'dregs of society' (or so they are socially labelled), when everything seems to have failed and you find yourself on the corner of a street, (ironically one of the city's richest streets), you still don't think to look round the back of food stores for free food, whether it be due to pride, fear of sickness or social conditioning. One wonders just how desperate one must be in order to go to such lengths to eat.
However, contrary to popular belief, food wasn't the number one priority for homeless people. More like 3rd. It seemed money was number one, the accommodation, then food. Interesting.

Bob told me where the food wagon sets up each day, so I think this week I will make myself known to them and see if I can volunteer.
Bob said to me 'Most people your age want to find a paid job when the come over here. You do realise this ain't paid?'
I was clear that it wasn't a paid job. I explained to him briefly my views on money and the capitalist system in general, and I think he was somewhat surprised that a being of my age would want to help out.
Roll on the day when people are surprised at folk my age who don't want to help out for free.

I gave Bob a couple of bucks, and in return I got a perspective of the city that you could never achieve in a guide book or through a lens. This was the real grit of the city, a topic that for some reason really draws me, probably because it's as real as it gets.

Hopefully I won't see Bob again, and his issues will have been sorted.
But Christmas in every Western Civilization is a very stressful time for most, especially those that have mouths to feed and want to give their kids presents, but have nothing to give.
The least I can do, as an opposer of the Christmas celebrations in the West, is give my time and energy to helping those less fortunate, whether it be serving soup, or rummaging through a dumpster to get the very finest of capitalism's waste.

Christmas isn't far away, so just bare in mind those that are going through more shit than you, and search your soul to see if you can help ease the pain, even if only for a day or night.


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