We are lucky. We are meaningfully employed, have our support networks and despite times when we complain loudly we can be considered some of the richest people in the world. We have a place to live, a home.
When we think of poverty, our mind might wander to regions that are in a state of war, like Iraq or Syria, we might think of impoverished Africa or South East Asia. Poverty that is part of our day to day life is often forgotten, it could be a matter of subconsciously dismissing what we don’t see as immediately important.
I live in Fitzroy, a short stroll to the Pugh Morgan office in neighbouring Collingwood. It’s a 20-minute walk that takes me down Smith Street, a thoroughfare that boasts a number of high quality restaurants and cafés, pubs and night spots. It is an area that has undergone serious gentrification in the past 10 years. The area is almost unrecognisable from when I previously worked here in 2002.
However, amid the influx of developments, new apartment complexes, and creative businesses; homelessness and poverty continues. My morning routine includes walking my dog through Edinburgh Gardens. For the past 4 years, I’ve walked past a man tucked away in a sleeping bag, beneath the awning of the playing field change rooms. He is there every morning, regular dogs to the park don’t notice him anymore.
On the trip back from the gardens, a regular site is an elderly man, hunched over and shuffling slowly down Smith Street. I believe he spends some nights sleeping on a bench in a small park on Cambridge Street.
On the short trip to and from work, it isn’t uncommon to see a quiet man who is always smiling, ratty hair and beanie in his hands, begging. He doesn’t talk and to most locals he is known simply as “Happy”. He is one among a number of regulars who wander the streets of Collingwood and Fitzroy, mostly ignored by most passers-by.
Last year the Victorian Government withdrew plans for East-West Link, leaving several compulsorily acquired houses on Bendigo Street vacant. Many rough sleepers began squatting in the houses which are earmarked for homeless services for the Salvation Army. It was an untenable situation, and the squatters were recently evicted.
The situation has put these people back on the streets. This year instead of gifts, Pugh Morgan will be donating to Homeground (http://www.homeground.org.au/what-we-do/ending-homelessness/). Part of their mission is to help end homelessness with quality, affordable housing and long-term support. Homeground is a local charity with a headquarters on Oxford Street, Collingwood.