Thursday, September 06, 2007

Social Group Change - Autumn

Over Summer, I mostly hung out with the alcoholics, drug users, and indigenous people on the street. After I was away sick for a week, early March, I came back to find most of them had gone. Why? It's not easy to work out. I think it is mostly a range of factors..

First: it was getting cooler, and while it is easy to maintain a '24hr party' with hot days and warm nights, when it gets cold consistently, people start looking for warmth and shelter. Warren was the master of sleeping rough and not being bothered by the cold, he seemed totally immune to it. He was one of those gone when I returned from my week away sick. I always wondered where he had gone for the last six months. I had a phone number for his mum at her home in the country, he had trusted me with, but I was pretty sure he would not have returned there, and I didn't feel I could call her up without his permission, as there were probably issues there. Then just a few weeks ago, I found him on the street again. He was excited to see me and told my he had got himself a place to rent further up north, and was doing much better. He wants me to come up and visit him there as soon as possible. After a while we sat down on the sidewalk and he was shivering from the cold. I had almost forgotten about it with my thermals. I offered him one of my tops or a blanket, but he refused (out of pride) and just sat there for the next hour shaking. I said to him "the cold never even bothered you before?" and he replied that even for him "once you have had it good living in a heated flat, it's impossible to go back" (to not being bothered by the cold). Infact a lot of people are like Warren in such that they come in to the city over Summer, party all night and day, and then head back out to the country over the Winter. It's also as good as a holiday to have a mental break by leaving the city for a few months and just getting away while it's cold. This particularly applies to the indigenous community.

Another reason why people disappeared was that they went back to jail. BJ soon disappeared after he told me he was due back in court for assault. When I first met him on the street he told me about how hard life was to cope with (personal drive and responsibility) and he expected to have fun for a while, then 'muck up' and return to the safe routine jail. His own words becoming a self fulfilled prophecy.

Also, late March, I was told (from a reliable source) of an official Police crackdown in the area. In other suburbs you are allowed to drink publicly (such as Smith St Collingwood) but where it was banned around Swanston St in the city the police response changed from checking up on things every few hours, to an immediate response the moment someone sat down with a drink. Once I was sitting down at the meeting place and along came Robbie and he opened up a can of VB and along came the cops within 5 minutes. They told him 'there's a new boss, and we have to enforce the rules now..' I chuckled, as it implied they didn't enforce the rules in the past, which they certainly did. Which is totally fine in my eyes. They are there to protect the community and enforce the law, and it's probably in the community's best interests not to have excessive drinking and drunkenness around such an open public area of the city. Even Dougy was told he would be left alone as long as he didn't come up to the top end of town, and stayed away for months.

So people I had started building relationships moved on, and that was ok (I have caught up with most of them again at different points over the Winter), but it made it a lot harder for me to find people to sit and talk with. I felt the wind had gone a bit out of my sails, but it worked out well as my eyes were opened to another social group. Those street people that were no threat, not into any crime, but were hanging around all day and night, just chatting to each other. They were the Disability Pension group, and I started to get to know them.

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