My interacting with the street community is pretty much non stop now. I have been mostly going for about two days without a break, then sleeping for about seven hours before going for another couple of days. Today I made a tough decision to just take a break to get some sleep and blog for a bit. As no natural pause in events allows me to slip away, I needed to make an excuse to depart, which can be a problem in itself..
Yesterday I needed to visit my mentor at 1:30pm and just told them (Dougy's crew) I had to meet someone (unspecified) and would be back in an hour. I had the appointment time mixed up and came back 10 minutes later, which I think, innocently, raised a little bit of suspicion. There was a new associate (new to me) who met up with us after just getting out of prison last week. Everyone has their tough guy/stare you down mode, but with this guy (Gary), it seemed to be his only mode. He is one of only two guys on the street I have seriously felt nervous around. Shortly after we all sat down, he kept looking at me and asking if I was a Narc (an undercover Narcotics police officer). But first let me re-wind a bit...
Monday 5th Feb - Evening
As I was sitting on the Steps Jason and Ruth (the Fijian girl) came over, and asked if I wanted to come along to the State Library to play with them on the computers in the Games Room there. We headed over and played for a couple of hours (this time I had a legitimate reason to be playing the games!). Jason mentioned he had no dad and his mum was an addict and didn't care what he did. After the Library closed (9pm) I walked them up to the Vic Markets to get some food. Along the way Jason was really hyper active, smashing things, spitting, and yelling random insults at people passing by. I didn't say anything, but really wanted to. I wonderd about my role, responsibility and authority in the situation. Could I say anything? I've not been charged with his care, but I am an adult in the city at night with a young kid, so that implies some responsibility. I decided anything I said would be best coming from a friendship/relationship, that had not developed far enough yet that what I said might be respected.
At the food van I met up again with Dave, the Adelaide runaway kid (Harry) and his mate (Jimmy). Jimmy was getting into a showdown with another street kid over an insult about his sister, that had come by rumor through about three different people, whom they backtracked it by calling each one by mobile phone, while they held the accused against the wall. The last guy they called denied knowledge and so the 'accused' got off, but I had to re-assess Jim's comment (last week) that he was part of a Ministry team, as he certainly didn't act like it. In fact most of what I'm told on the street is either partly or totally rubbish, but I like to take people and what they say at face value, until they prove otherwise. I don't consider it naive, but rather good to be open to people being honest with me, without suspicion. It's an opportunity for them to start an honest relationship with me, even if they mostly don't avail themselves of it.
I had a hamburger from the van, before I remembered I was supposed to be fasting, and Jason had disappeared and so I headed back to HJs. I got there just in time to see Dougy being whisked away by ambulance, this time though not drunk; he had just had an epileptic episode. I stood on the corner and was approached by young tough street girl (June) whom I had seen around. She usually wears a bandanna and has an amazingly good singing voice, she could easily get onto Australian Idol, and she had joked that she might try. We hadn't talked but she knew who I was and asked if I could hold her bottle of wine (although I hadn't seen her drink before) while she went into the pub to use the toilet. I said it was fine, and she went off. I put the bottle on the ground behind my leg and waited. I put it on the ground to be a bit cautious as it is an offense to have an open bottle in public (I think, usually the cops just tip it out) and this way if the cops came along I wouldn't be holding it and could honestly say it wasn't mine. June came back and thanked me, but before we could talk further, another older street lady came over and pulled her away to giver some advice about 'a women's prerogative to say no', before she and her friend headed off to talk to a couple of guys, Harry and Jimmy.
After midnight and into early Tuesday morning, I hung out on the street and started chatting with Ethan. He and his mate were young adult Asian guys that hung out, drinking a fair bit, with Robbie's crew. He was very friendly but told me that I was lucky I had sat with them this week, as most other weeks they would have just 'pounded' me. For some reason, he said, they had not been in a fighting mood for the last few few days. He was really intelligent, and quick in conversation, although later he told me he was unable to read. It was an issue I immediately felt frustrated by as he seemed so capable and enthusiastic otherwise. Illiteracy could be a lot more common than I realize.
About 3am Dougy strolled back with a grin, the hospital had not held him for long, and we had a chat. He said he was committed to doing the detox program (which would also help his standing in an upcoming court case) but he could not do it this week as it would mean being in the rehab center for six to seven days, and it was his birthday this Saturday, and he wanted to head out of town and catch up with family and friends to celebrate. He said Bernie, at the Salvos, had talked to him and was really upset that he would not do the detox immediately, but he was heading back for another meeting with him later on today. Again he emphasized, once his Birthday was out of the way, there would be no problem. I offered to come along to talk with him and Bernie about it later and he said that was cool. So I left the issue for later.
Not much later Dougy, Terry (another of the Crew who is always always high, happy and has a natural sliding speech slur that makes it incredibly hard to understand what he's saying, although no one else seems to struggle) and I were all sitting at the front window bench in McDonalds. They were both hunched over and asleep and I was down to the last chapter of the Homelessness Resource Book (an excellent introduction to the issues), and feeling sleepy myself. I decided to read the final chapter later and thought about dozing off myself, it would be quite comical, the three of us, all hunched over in the front window. Instead I got up and walked outside and talked to Ethan, as we tossed a soft ball back and fourth between each other. Not two minutes later along came three cops, which the manager had called, to wake up the guys and get them out of the store. Phew, I had made a good call not to sleep. They went in and really had to shake Dougy to wake him up, always with the blue gloves on when they may need to touch someone. We all stood around outside but there was another rabbit in the hole, and a moment later the cops went upstairs (which is roped off at night) and came back down with Ruth. She was in a bad mood at being woken up and they told her she was disturbing the peace, and she told them they were disturbing her peace, before trying to run off, at which point the cops grabbed her and took her to the ground, whipped out the cuffs and escorted her back to the station, which is right around the corner.
We all split up and went our separate ways. I headed back to my usual arcade spot, but there was someone already there, snoring away up the top of the stairs. I was too tired to go looking for somewhere else, so I got out my sleeping bag and lay down at the bottom of the stairs. Sleeping in a higher state of alert, I noticed shortly later when Ruth came along, released, and sat down in a corner. I still haven't mastered the art of sleeping sitting up, but many do it. Another hour or so later I awake to watch the guy at the top of the stairs get up, it's Robbie, with his indigenous flag on a pole, and he shuffles to the top corner and relieves himself, all over my favorite sleeping spot... Oh Robbie.. I don't know if I'll ever be able to sleep there again! He then stumbles down the stairs and asks me "Do you know what time it is?", "About 5am" I replied. Another hour later the arcade security guy came along and told me to move on. As I got up I saw Ruth had moved to the top of the stairs, where Robbie had 'been'. Did she not notice, or not care? I walked out into the early morning light.
I had only slept about 2hrs, but it was enough to abate the sleepiness for a later time. As I walked along the empty street Dougy saw me and called out to wait. He strolled up with a can of VB in his hand, his first drink of the morning, so he was pretty much sober. I saw some cops coming along the other side of the road, and said "Jacks", he stuck the can in his pocket. The cops came over and started to question him. Seeing the can in his pocket they made him toss it in the bin, and proceeded to arrest him. He was pretty upset about it as he wasn't drunk and not disturbing anyone, which normally only induced a warning and an order to move on. But they called for a car and whisked him away. Then along came Morgan, probably Dougy's longest best mate, but who is not around as much as Robbie. Morgan is a wiry tough older guy, who is an intelligent gruff ex-navy seal, who did a couple of tours of Gulf War 1. He talked to me about being shot out of torpedo tubes, and as a scuba diver myself, I noted that he really knew his stuff. He also lives on the streets and does a lot of drinking, but he never looses his mental capacity, and never fears anyone. He quite happily chats with the cops when they're around, and the crew has charged him with finding a squat, to which he said I was also invited to stay with them, once he found one. I told him Dougy had been locked up and he said he would be out in four hours, and went to sit down with the rest of the crew, who had just arrived.
I was concerned that with Dougy locked up he might miss his appointment at the Salvos, and so I went to the Police Station, to ask where they had taken him, so I could meet him when he got out and take him straight to the Salvos, before he came back to the crew. The officer at the station let me know he had been taken to the Carlton Watch-house and gave me directions on how to get there. When I left the station I noticed three officers walk out behind me. As I walked down the block I paused at a shop window and saw in its reflection that they appeared to be following me. I kept walking to the corner where they then tapped me on the shoulder, from behind, and I turned around to talk to them. They wanted to know why I had asked about Dougy? I explained what I was doing, and they asked me who I was with, and I said I was from Christ Church Hawthorn, my home Church. They seemed ok with that but told me there was 'no hope for someone like Dougy' and that I was 'wasting my time.' They then asked for my personal details, and I gave them my real name and particulars, before they left and I went and sat with the crew for a bit.
Around noon I headed up to the Salvos to ask them when they closed, and they said it didn't matter, that if I brought Dougy in, they would find someone for us to talk to, which was pleasing. I walked up to the Carlton Watch-house and went inside. It was a lot older and rundown than I expected, not at all fresh and new like in tv shows. An officer came out and said it would be another hour before Dougy was released and I asked if it was ok if I waited there, so I could then take him to the Salvos. The officer went out and spoke to the Sargent, who came back, and said he was happy to release Dougy now, into my care, which was great. A couple of minutes later Dougy and I were heading back up the road, and he kept stopping to tell people how I had come all the way to get him and he had "just got out, early", he was very excited by it, and he would be talking about it for the rest of the week. We got to the Salvos and sat down in the hall at a table, while we waited for them to find Bernie or Macca. As we sat they suddenly brought us out a meal each, and as it was there I didn't want to offend them, and reject it, so we both ate up and my fasting was delayed yet again. After making some more enquiries, and waiting another 20 minutes without anyone coming to talk, Dougy got very impatient, and decided to leave. As we walked back to the Steps he said he was concerned he was late in meeting Morgan, who had promised to pay for him to have a hair cut, and get it all removed. When we arrived Morgan was not around and Dougy was a bit upset and went to sit with the crew.
I went to my Brother's place in St.Kilda, for a break, which I had spoken to my cousin about last week, who also lives there (my brother was away on a ski trip in Japan). When I got there I sewed up the edge of my brown Coles carry bag, which had started to come apart at the edges, and remembered that my brother had some electric clippers in his bathroom drawer. I went and got them and headed back into the city and showed them to Dougy, who was very excited, immediately bent over and said "Do it", but I needed to find somewhere with a power point. Ah yes, electricity, a commodity not so readily available to a homeless person as I first thought. I went for a hunt and it was an hour before I finally found a power point at the back of the men's toilets in the Flinders Station underpass. I also noticed as I passed the women's toilets entrance that in their foyer they got wooden couches to sit on, which the men's foyer didn't have, what's that about? I headed back to get Dougy but he had gone, and I was told he would be sleeping for the rest of the night. So I headed back to my brother's place and got some sleep as well.
Wednesday morning I borrowed my brother's spare keys (so I could later return the clippers) and headed back in to town. Dougy was there and we went and clipped his hair, which without showed up about twenty different scars on his skull, from past 'incidents'. He was really happy with the cut and gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. I washed the clippers and he went off to meet someone in a bar elsewhere.
I went and sat 'somewhere' and along came Jason with a friend (Amos). They were talking about how Amos had just 'found' this bike he had with him, and wondered how much he could get for it. An employee of a store nearby came over and asked if Amos was interested in selling the bike? Amos said yes, he had been wanting sell the bike 'for a while now' and they agreed on a price and arranged to meet later on to do the deal. I found myself in a new dilemma as it was basically a crime (more serious than drinking) happening in front of me. Should I do something about it or warn the employee it was stolen (although I'm confident he was aware it was). I had a general rule of non interference but if it was my bike stolen I would hope someone would do something about it.. I decided to speak up and I said to them "I feel, as a Christian, I should say that I think you should return the bike, or I could take it to the police station anonymously, if you like." He said "no", that he was not really worried as it was in the police computer that he was 'not to be arrested, in lieu of the fact that his brother was a Federal Cop'. I spoke a bit further then dropped the issue, deciding to think about it more before they returned later in the day to do the deal. I mostly thought about what type of God do I want to represent: a judging punishing one, or a friendly someone who is there to help you when you want to change. I was leaning towards the latter, but the former one does turn up at some point.
I went and spoke to my mentor about the trouble I had starting my fasting. I said it was always difficult to start but when I had been successful in the past I felt it was because God had been backing me at those times. (ie doing it in his strength, not mine [Bible speak]). Since I had felt strongly that God wanted me to do some fasting in Feb, he asked why I thought God had stopped me from fasting so far? An incredibly interesting question from many angles. Was it a matter of timing that was not ready yet? Could God work from two different angles that appear opposite? Could my inability to act be not of my own weakness but of Gods action/design? I would think about it a lot over the next week and formed an opinion later.
That afternoon I ended up doing something I never expected to do, I bought Dougy a bottle of Port. It came about as at the steps I was minding Jason's jacket for him and then Dougy came along and asked me to mind his bottle of Port for him while he went to the toilet (yes, I'm becoming a bit of a closet). After Dougy got back, along came Jason who reached down and grabbed his jacket off the ground before I could tell him that Dougy's bottle of Port was underneath, where I had put it. The bottle tipped over and clunked down the steps and smashed at the bottom. Dougy immediately went into a rage and fists clenched yelled and glared down on Jason (13 years old), like David Vs Goliath. I immediately told Dougy it was all my fault, that I had put the bottle there and Jason hadn't known about it. I said "I'll buy you a brand new bottle, full to the brim..", while Dougy's glaring eyes scanned Jason up and down, seemingly oblivious to his protests of innocence. About to step between them it diffused as Dougy then smiled and then hugged Jason and said "You know I'd never hurt you..." and then headed down the street saying to me "Let's go". I was lucky I had some money in my pocket and as Dougy was already fairly gone, I asked "Do you want to save it for a later time?", answer "No" and I got him his bottle. As we exited the shop I got another commitment from him to do the Rehab program next week and then he bumped into his friend Gary, who had just got out of prison yesterday. Gary resonated violent danger and so I was happy that they decided to go off alone to catch up, and I headed back up to check on Jason. I didn't see Dougy for the rest of the week.
I headed back to the Salvos to ask the time and place they had arranged for Dougy to go into Detox on Monday, so I could help him get there and support him through it, but they said it was actually arranged through his social worker at St.Vincents Hospital. So I headed on over there and spoke with her. She was friendly, smart and pleased I was interested in helping Dougy. We discussed what was involved in the detox process and took my email address to let me know the booking details, once it had been finalized.
After that I went to Scotty's place for a lift to Small Group. He told me he had used the public transport without a ticket yesterday, and as a penance for himself he bought a ten journey pass and gave it to me. An excellent response if anyone else finds them self in the same position. LOL. In fact my Dad had also bought me a couple of passes for my Birthday last week, and I was enjoying using them in a new way. Rather than let the possession of the tickets control me, I decided to use them on an immediate need basis with no consideration as to trying to 'make them last.' If I run out, then so what? It's great! I now just stamp them with no stress or temptation and not only have I not run out of journeys, I now have extra ones. Even yesterday (prior to this post) I met a Public transport Association volunteer who gave me $20 to use specifically for met tickets! I need to be careful I don't start preaching prosperity doctrine. Ha. Anyway, small group was good again and when it later hit midnight, I had finally just finished a full day of fasting. Tick.
Thursday I started the day a little pissed off. There were a few issues including I was still beating myself up over my poor fasting performance. So yesterday someone passed on to me some sunglasses they had been given, and I put them on. I felt a bit better now, as it was like having a nice comfort barrier between me and the world. I might also now be able to sleep sitting up at the park benches, without the cops realizing my eyes are closed. [Actually, after a few days I felt that it was more important to make direct eye contact with people, and so I passed the sunglasses on to another homeless person.]
At lunch I took up Kate's invitation to visit Credo Cafe (Urban Seeds midday meal for: 'all welcome'). At first it seemed a bit claustrophobic, as it is in a narrow basement with no windows, but everyone (staff and patrons) were very welcoming, and I soon felt comfortable. I enjoyed chatting with a number of people and also saw Tony; for a blind man he certainly gets around. It's also good to note that they serve mostly vegetarian (and vegetables are a nutrition hard to find on the charity food trail), but they also had some donoughts, so I might be back ;)
Back at the steps I sat next to Alice (the girl who had abused me on the first night of the FW and then later apologized). She had 30 cents and was trying to raise $20 so she could go and buy some Chuff (Marijuana). The second guy she spoke to, who came along, she convinced she was really hungry and he gave her a $20 note straight up. She blessed him and then headed off to score. Jason came by and told me that the Acme Center in Federation Square had an AstroBoy exhibition which included lots of Playstations and Nintendos running AstroBoy games, all for free, so we headed off and spent a few hours playing together. Afterwards I took Jason along to CoH for a Bible study, but he didn't stay long.
Up at the Vic Markets (but earlier at 8:30) I met Eco Paul to experience another charity, that puts on a meal, by a group following Sadi Babba (probably misspelt), an Indian 'love everyone and everything' religious group. We stayed also for the regular food vans and I ended up chatting to lots of people until about 1am, when I then went back to my brother's place to return the clippers. I was going to head back into the city to sleep, but my cousin strongly insisted I stay, and so I did. As I went to sleep I thought about how I, and others, manage to cope with living on the streets while we are strong, healthy and supported. I contemplated just how difficult it would be to cope is your physical or mental health dropped down, and if you had no one to support you through such a struggle.....................
Friday in the morning I stopped by the Life Center (the Salvos drop-in centre), which is the most classy of the 'drop-in centres' I had been to, and thus it was popular and busy. They had a TV, multiple newspapers, and (for all my friends at World Vision) a Table Tennis Table! When I first went there a mean looking guy asked me for a game, and he was quite good, but I was better, though I let him win 2 games to 1, by 3 points, as I didn't want him out there on the streets with a grudge against me. LOL.
Not much else happened during the day, but I did some exercises to loosen things up. There was a lot of emergency services whizzing by every half hour, that night. And there was a stabbing further down on Elizabeth St. I had been thinking about doing some prayer for healing, and so I was happy that night for the opportunity to pray for one homeless man (I was talking to at the food van) who wanted prayer to stop smoking and healing for his lungs, as he was not far from getting emphysema. When I went to sleep, Ruth came by and asked if it was ok if she also slept in the same area/spot. I said it was. (I have been told that some homeless people will go through the pockets of other homeless people sleeping [mostly those out cold from intoxification] but hey, I don't have anything to steal).
Saturday The security guy (which reminds me that St.Pauls have not had any security guys at night for a while now, I wonder if it was just a Christmas period thing?) woke me up, time to move on, and asked me to wake Ruth and move her on as well. I called to her quietly until she woke and told her we had been asked to move, but she didn't seem acknowledge what I was saying, and knowing her temper for being woken up, I didn't insist any further and headed off (she later told me the security guy didn't return). I sat on the bench in front of the Town Hall for an hour, and then Ethan and his mate came along and we walked to St.Pauls.
At St.Pauls there was a team of guys absailing down the side and attaching a huge 'Justice for David Hicks' sign, to the wall. We watched and started to talk about God and politics. Both guys said they were Christians but had no real idea of the Bible or what Christianity was, they had just attended Sunday School as children and thus ascribed themselves to it as it was where their history was. In fact surprisingly (to me) most street people respect God and Church and a lot describe themselves as Christians. I think it comes mainly from a sense that they know and admit they are people who have done a lot of wrong stuff, and the Church is there waiting, as a way to start to deal with their sin and issues, if they feel they might want to head in that direction. I chatted to the guys about God for about two hours and Ethan's mate expressed a desire to be Baptized, at some point, which was really encouraging for me, and I hope to speak to him further about it soon.
I was due to meet my friends in Reservoir that evening, and while I had a train pass, I remembered finding a small badge on the ground earlier in the week and decided to walk, so I could visit a friend along the way, who makes badges. I gave myself a few hours to walk there and headed off and up Nicholson St. I passed the Hub and halfway down the block I stopped. Something ticked at the back of my mind that I should turn around and head back to Gertrude St. I thought about it and went 'ok, I have time' to back track and go a different route. As I turned back and walked around the corner into Gertrude St I smiled as I saw Ali, whom I had not seen since I helped him find his lost key, back in December. He remembered my name and was very pleased to see me. He said he was now off drugs and improving on the methadone program, and asked me to pray for God to help him find a job. Great! His mate, standing with him, was on crutches with a swollen foot that was still painful from a motorcycle accident and operations he had a year ago. He was also interested in prayer for his foot, and so I got to pray for both of them in the street and then everyone was smiling and happy, and they waved as I continued on my journey north. I also stopped by Colette's place but she was away but I caught up with Brandon (her partner and also a friend) before walking the rest of the way to Reservoir, the whole journey took about 3hrs. I was pretty stuffed when I got there, but in a good mood.
On Sunday morning I headed back to the Salvation Army Church for a second time, on the chance that Dougy might turn up two weeks in a row, but he wasn't there. Though I must mention the great talk from the lady teaching, in her Salvo uniform, who demonstrated her desire to be 'drenched in the Holy Spirit' by tipping a large jug of water on top of herself, yes she got drenched. I love it when people give action and drama to their talks, it's much more kinetic.
Afterwards I decided to go and visit my parents, and went to catch the train from Finders St. As I stood on the platform, where the escalators came down, I decided to go to the other end of the platform for a change. I wandered down and the train pulled in and when the doors opened June stepped out and said "Hi John" and walked by as I, caught by surprise, reached for a reply.
Lunch with my parents, a nap, and a service at my home Church later that evening, and I headed back into the city. I was planning to stay awake all night, from now until when I would see Dougy, so as not to miss the opportunity to support him to go into the Rehab program tomorrow.
As I hung around Jason and Amos came by, (Amos had 'found' another bike) and after Amos rode off, I asked Jason what had happened to the other bike. He said they had not sold it to the employee but he thought Amos had given it to someone else to sell to Cashies (Cash Converters store) as the seller needs to supply a Driver's License ID and Amos was under age.
A teenage street gang came by, and started talking to to other teenage street kids. They asked what type of mobile phone he had and he pulled it out and showed them. One of the gang asked the kid if he could see if his phone battery worked with the phone. The kid agreed and passed it over, at which point the gang member put it straight in his pocket and they all walked right away. Goodbye phone. The kid from whom it had been taken said he couldn't go to the police, as he had a warrant out for his arrest, and he didn't want to fight for it, as he was sleeping on the street because his uncle had thrown him out of the house for two weeks, for previous fights, and he needed not to be in any new fights so he could return to the house next week. He said he might seek justice another way.
Around midnight I was wandering around Bourke St mall, when Alice came by and asked what I was doing. "Nothing much" I replied. She asked me to go for a walk with her. As we went up the street she pulled out and showed me a new looking PDA phone, she said she had just found it in McDonalds. "Where are we going?" I asked. "We're going to look for some Heroin dealers" she replied...