I woke up and headed to Melb Central and sat and watched a guy selling The Big Issue. This is a magazine that homeless/poor people sell as a way to generate income, in a respectable way rather than having to beg for change. They buy as many copies as they want for $2 and then sell them for $4. There is a great range of people selling the magazine, from some that just sit in a spot and silently hold up the magazine to passers-by, to others that make a great salesman's effort at the job. I had spoken to one quietish guy who said he sold 5 to 10 copies a day ($10 to $20), which is enough to cover basic accommodation costs. This guy I was watching was one of the friendliest, most enthusiastic people I had seen. I wondered why he didn't get a regular job as a salesperson in a store. He seemed very employable. Then I realized that over the hour he had probably sold about 20 magazines, that's about $40 per hour, a much better rate than an award income job! A friend rushed by and onto the tram nearby, he turned and saw me just as it was pulling away. Hi Shawn! He later told me the Big Issue guy is there almost every day and is very popular. It's good to see a service where people can help themselves into a better situation, rather than just receive a handout.
Next I went and visited Anglicare's Lazarus House, just behind St Paul's Cathedral. This is a small place that a few people gather to in the morning where food, showers, clothes and TV is provided for a couple of hours. I had some ham on toast, which was very satisfying, and read the paper. As I moved around to get a drink and things, I realized I was gripping my blanket tightly wherever I went. My first possession and I wasn't willing to let go of it. Carol, one of the ladies who worked there (and the friendliest and most caring one I had met yet), noticed my 'blanket situation' and offered me a bag to carry it in. Very helpful. A few of us watched an episode of Magnum PI on the DVD, which was nice to have a mental break from my situation. I think I had started to feel like a homeless person, more alone and unworthy of society. My thinking had slowed down, my movement had slowed down and my thoughts were goalless and floating on the moment. I snapped back to alertness and immediately my confidence and intelligence returned, like I had stepped out of a haze. Time to move on. As I left, I heard Carol mention that Anglicare had cut their budget and that's why they had moved to a smaller place. Outside there were big signs asking people to help donate towards the 20 million dollar restoration of the St. Pauls Cathedral building. I wondered about the imbalance of funding allocations, a building vs people...
Back through the city I got approached by a 'Friends of the Earth' supporter. He asked me for a donation, excitedly pointing out that any donation over $2 was tax free! I told him I was homeless and lived on the street. "No problem, you can donate as little as $1 if you want." What? I said, "Mate, this blanket is all I have. I don't even have a single dollar." He replied, quite happily, "Ok, perhaps you would like to take a brochure then?" I just shook my head in disbelief that he was still trying to market to me! At least he wished me good luck as I walked away.
I headed on over to St. Mark's Community Center in Fitzroy, one of the few support services open in the afternoon. They mainly offered food parcels, bags of food items you could take away and use later in the week. There I met one of the most interesting, street characters out there. His name was Francesco, on account he had spent some time as a Franciscan monk in Italy. He also had been a policeman, a janitor (impersonating a dead janitor for the accommodation and wages), a soldier in the Vietnam war and a geophysicist. He had been napalmed, shot 38 times and had a junkie strike him in the head with an axe! He now collects cans and saves time crushing them by getting Safeway truck drivers to roll over his sacks of cans with their trucks. And he had many schemes to make money, though he doesn't believe in possessions, but wants to hold on to 'his' dream of one day buying and living in an abbey with naked women running around. Surprisingly he seemed quite sane! It was very refreshing to have a good fun chat with someone.
It was almost 4pm (I sometimes ask people the time, but I have begun to notice just how many people are not wearing watches. I can only guess people are relying more on mobile phone clocks for the time) and I headed over to HomeGround Accomodation Services, to see what they had to offer. Birdy from Flagstaff had given me a map there, last night when I got the blanket. I had a chat with the consultant and discovered that if you were registered with Centrelink and had a Healthcare Card, then they could help you find accommodation straight away for that night. Registering with Centrelink could also be done same day. So in effect, if someone were to find themselves homeless and knew where to go for help, there is no reason for anyone to sleep rough on the street for more than one night. Unless they prioritized their payments on other 'stuff' before accommodation, or if they are unable to register with Centrelink for a particular reason, like me. I am out here by choice and so I am not going to draw on the welfare system for funding. I have had some charity food, but more as to fit in as part of the community, to understand better what services and people are 'out there'. I explained to the consultant my situation, and she offered me a sleeping bag. They offer one to anyone sleeping on the street. At first I refused, but as she said it was returnable, and would be cleaned and it could reused, I agreed. Great, the blanked had not helped much, so this was a valuable item.
Back in the city, I met Shawn at the Station, as I had been invited to his house tonight for some TV and catch up with friends. He bought me a ticket, such a small amount of money, but so large and seemingly unobtainable, when you have nothing. Cruising out north on the train, things whizzed past so fast, with no money I had walked, walked, walked all week, with little thought to distance, time or rest. If I had to go somewhere I just started walking, there was no other choice. I refused to jump on a tram, because I couldn't afford a ticket, and free riding was wrong. I had a shower at Steve's and it felt great! Another meal, TV, chit chat, and I almost forgot I was still living on the streets. It was like I had come back from a week away camping in the bush. It was a big relief from the mental pressure of the week, just to forget about things for a while... At the end of the night I changed back into my wonderfully washed and cleaned clothes, and drove back with JJ and Kath to their place in Camberwell, and slept on the couch (oh so soft) for the night.
We got up at 11am. My money pouch jingled? There was only supposed to be my stone (with the word FAITH engraved on it) in there. I checked it and I had $12.50! Where had that come from? It must have been my friends slipping it in after my stuff was washed?? Thanks! Now I have to worry about how to best use it? I walked back towards the city to return the blanket to Flagstaff, now that I didn't need it as I had a sleeping bag.
Walking through Richmond I noticed all the couples walking along holding hands. I wondered what chances of finding love/companionship a homeless person had. Another of those driving forces of our culture, wealth creation and now family building also denied to those on the bottom rung? I realized I had not seen any females living on the street. Did they get better welfare and support? Was it less of an option for them due to danger of attack? Were they out there, but in other locations than where I had seen?
At some lights a 'tin' lady was collecting donations for the disabled. I dropped in $2.50 as a tithe from the money I had received. I got to Flagstaff and they were thankful for the return of the blanket, then I headed back east towards Collingwood to go to the St. Matrins (the God Squad Church) community Christmas party, the Steps Ministry girls had invited me to a couple of days earlier. I was running late, so I stood on the side of Victoria Parade for 10 mins with my thumb out to see if someone would give me a lift up the road. No one stopped, so I walked. After my walking journey, which started four hours earlier, I finally got there and sat down with a good lunch. It was very busy with a couple of hundred people there. Susan and Amy said hello, and I chatted to a couple of others. At the end we all gathered in the church and presents were handed out to each child, and then to my surprise, to each adult as well! I didn't want/need a present and so decided to take it up to the Hub and give it to Ali, whom I had helped find the key with earlier on in the week.
Up at the Hub, Ali was not there, and so I was writing a note wishing him a Merry Christmas to leave with the present, at reception. Just then up came Dave, one of the other five guys I had met drinking in the park. He was dressed in just his tracksuit pants and had a bag full of clothes. He talked to the guy at the reception in distress. He had lost his key...! He had searched the room twice and had not been far outside when he realized he had lost it. He asked the reception guy to search his room, but he said it was not his job to look for keys. So... I said "I'll help you look for it" and "Let's do the same thing we did for Ali, let's pray to Jesus to help us find the key." So we prayed to Jesus to help us find the key. We went outside and searched through all his clothes and washing (I was careful about needles) but it was not there. I said let's go back to your room and check there, and though he insisted he had searched there twice, we went and I said we are searching with Jesus now. We went into the dorm and he said he did not mind me looking through his stuff. He went to pull his bedsheets apart and I looked in the plastc bag on the stool, and there next to his (*Ahem) pipe, was the key! He was ecstatic and started hugging me. We went back to reception and returned the spare key, and outside I said goodbye (another hug) and Dave went off to the laundry very happy. Thanks Jesus!
Next, to the Church of Hope for dinner. This is a church started 2 years ago on faith by Conrad Fenton after sitting on the steps of Flinders St Station with nothing! It's just one block from there in Hosier Lane, and provides a meal and service for homeless people on Saturday nights, and they also do a bit of street preaching around the city. There were a few familiar faces there (I am seeing some regular characters turn up at these different charities) and the dinner was provided by the Richmond AOG (Assembly of God Church). There was some good preaching and worship singing, overall a very enjoyable relaxing few hours, with some others getting some real effective prayer at the end as well. A wonderful place, they invited me to come for lunch on Christmas Day, and I think I will :)
About 9pm I was out with the crowd down at Flinders St. waiting for the St. Vincent De Paul Soup Van to arrive. (If you haven't guessed by now, there is absolutely no shortage of food available in the city for those that need it.) One older lady, Alice, had her bag stolen, and went into great distress, yelling and screaming up and down the road. Some thought she never had it (perhaps she left somewhere else) and others talked about what sort of person would steal from a homeless person. The van came later than expected. While we waited one drunk woman came up to me shouting "No, no, no, no..." and tried to tear the cross off my top, but stopped when she realized it was stuck on, and walked away.
After the soup van left, I went up and sat on the steps of Flinders St. Some evangelists from Frankston handing out tracts came by and started talking with me. They were pretty intense and funny, as even though I said I was a Christian, they kept probing and probing, looking for a crack or mistake in my beliefs that they could then re-confirm to me their correct understanding... I told them my story, and they were very concerned that I didn't have a Bible with me. I explained how I had wanted to start my Faith Walk with absolutely nothing, and also went into my Heaven story, and now they were sitting listening. They said they had felt earlier it was time to go home but saw me though and God wanted them to talk to me. So I took on board their message, that I should have a Bible, (now that I had a bag to carry things and it would also give me something to read/do at nights when it was quiet) and resolved to pick mine up from my parents' place the next day.
As they left, the dirtiest, scruffiest homeless guy I had seen came and sat down beside me. His name was Shawn. His street name was 'Goaty'. He started talking and I mainly listened. He showed me the scars on his wrists from police cuffs from when he used to be an armed robber. He loved his Harmonica, and started crying at one point, as he said I was the only one in the city that was willing to talk to him. He felt useless and trapped in life, although he had become a Christian (he likes playing the piano up at St. Patrick's) he saw no future in life for himself. He said he was just a bad man that had to keep fighting temptations to do wrong things. I told him Jesus's story of the 'Rich Man and Lazarus' and confirmed that as a Christian he would get to Heaven and be looked after there, while many rich men would suffer more than he has, in hell, for ignoring the homeless people like him. I think he liked that story. He asked me where I was sleeping that night, and I said I might head up to Fitzroy Gardens (where I had slept earlier in the week). He said "the Skitzoid Gardens? Don't sleep there, it's too dangerous! Try behind St. Pauls." So I decided that if an armed robber said Fitzroy Gardens was too dangerous, I better not go back there again, and thanked him as we hugged goodbye.
Tom, a street evangelist from Richmond AOG, came by. He preaches every Sat night on the steps at 11pm and some others sing songs with some homeless regulars who turn up to listen. He told me about his Faith Walk across Africa with his wife many years ago, sleeping with lions visible in the distance. Good bloke :)
After 12:30am the steps cleared out (as the last train out had left) and it was quiet. I went for a look behind St. Pauls but it was all open car park area, and nothing secluded, and so I moved on. On the other side of the city I spotted a nice tanbark niche behind some concrete steps and went for a closer look. There was a mattress and sleeping bag there and so I decided it was someone else's spot. I was pretty tired and headed up the steps, there was a nice flat space in front to the building entrance doors, but out of sight of the street. As it was the weekend I gambled no-one would be coming into work early Sunday morning and bedded down.
I got up early and went to a service at Melbourne International Fellowship, in Russell St. I like this church as they have the best worship music. The only drawback is due to their location in a secure office building, you usually need a mobile phone to call and let them buzz you in. Fortunately for me the mobile phone number sign was missing this week and they had a guy standing at the door to the building, who let me in. It was a good service and teaching about how your mission field is the place you work (I didn't mention that I had left mine to explore another ;) After church I used $2:50 of my money and trained back out to my parents' place to catch up after a week on the street. I had a nice relaxed afternoon (and picked up my Bible) before I was dropped back at my home church. Christ Church Hawthorn. It was a good carol service, re-mixed up in a new creative way (I like it when they do new creative stuff) and was very excited to hear of the engagement of some friends, Tim and Laura! After church I had a good chat with a few people about my week and woofed down some bbq sausages.
After I left church, I walked to the local 7-Eleven and bought myself a large orange slurpee..hmm yum... but got only just over halfway through it when my body began to shake and shiver from the cold ice of the slurpee I had sucked down. So I threw the rest in the bin and marched back off towards the city.