The Supreme Court Gardens is well-lit, with the beaming sun up high and quickly warming up the park. The sky scrapers stand tall and proud behind the trees that were once planted for the use of masts in the ships back when Perth was first settled. The traffic is heavy even though it’s the end of peak hour for the morning, horns honk endlessly like a New York movie scene. People casually wander through the park as a passage to their destination, smiling and relaxed, something not often seen in such a public place as the city.
The homeless continue to eat their breakfast, two hours after Shirley has gone, enjoying their remains to the start of the day. They crack open the beers and enjoy a song, their nature high and jolly which must symbolise a pay day for one or many. They begin yakking about street life, a subject as vocal as political affairs.
“Living on the streets is free” begins Ray, a 48 year old homeless man. “Most people take it for cost but when you go to bed at night, there’s nothing between you and the world. It’s life without restrictions. Society is a box – we live in boxes and I can’t live with that. The Ministries come out to feed the less fortunate. I call them the more intelligent. Anywhere in Australia, streeties respect each other and help each other out. Here in Perth, they don’t respect each other and while you’re asleep, people steal your gear, whether it’s shoes, mobile phones or your blanket. It’s just the way it is. I witnessed a man with two friends for backup and a twelve inch knife, jump on someone he thought was a guy he was looking for. It turned out to be a woman. That’s the attitude for ya!” Ray says, taking another drink of his beer.
“Dangerous! One word . . . danger!” Fred adds excitedly, sitting up with his index finger sticking up. “But you get to meet a lot of people. You meet different nationalities and you can see how they live. No one wants to employ us. We usually smell because of lack of showers and facilities. We don’t have a permanent residence so they can’t get in contact with us. Streeties are sick of making rich people richer. Most of us have worked for most of our lives. I want a job and I’m going to be cleaning bricks next week. A lot of us could get a job if we really wanted to because most of us are intelligent. Employees take us for granted. Give some of us a chance – others aren’t worth it – the ones who have never worked before”.
“They don’t want to be helped! They’re too busy looking for a place to sleep and no one wants to help us anyway. Employees tell people to come to work and then tell them to go back to their boxes. I couldn’t live like that” Ray says.
“We don’t have a job because it’s pretty hard to wake up in the morning!” someone behind him yells.
“The attitude of the streets is the same as society. Dog eat dog (Step on someone to benefit yourself). Ungrateful!” William appears behind them, sitting down with his backpack. “Everyone wants to be somewhere safer but the majority of the time, they can’t afford it or they can’t find it”. Someone hands him a beer and he suddenly perks up, forgetting he’s just woken up. “Some like to share their squats so they’re around people and hope to feel safer with them. Drugs are highly used by street people – it’s a way to waste time and make themselves feel happy. Drugs are not used by everyone because some people know what the drugs do to them”.
Fred sits up. “I don’t know. I try and not think about it because it makes me depressed. I always try and keep a smile on my face and pick little things to laugh about. In general, I think everyone’s just looking for ways to numb the pain. Sleep. Eat. Sleep. If you haven’t got a permanent residence, you’ve got to find a place before dark. Find food even though it’s supplied. Like I didn’t do today. A lot of people go thieving. A lot of people try to survive the honest way – we’re a mixed breed. All the coppers treat us like thieves – everyone of them, like criminals. I’m not! The street supplies me without thieving. It’s not the type of life I’d advise any young person to get into.
“I get woken up by a security guard called Doug, at seven am at the latest” Rob behind them says, patting his little Chihuahua named Trouble. “He’s a great bloke who’s head of the security in the building I sleep in. He always wakes me up with a smile and he knows my name. Then I roll up my bed roll and make it look like I’m not even there. Sometimes I go and scam a coffee cup and get a free refill from Macers or just hang around for half an hour until Trambys (a hangout for homeless people) opens. Then I get a shower at the Supreme Court Gardens (that’s very cold), jump on the Blue Cat bus and go catch up with everybody. I use the library internet a lot. I wait for an evening feed and then try and get stoned” he laughs. Trouble yaps, as if to agree.
Ray takes a bite out of his sandwich. “I lived in an artillery storage bunker in Darwin. But I’ve also slept under churches, drains, parks and under Martin Square in Sydney. I’m never lonely. I’m different to everyone else. I don’t seem to have the emptiness most people have so I don’t get lonely. I’m on a pension – Disability Support Pension because I’m too intelligent to work. Unlimited intelligence in this society translates to a personality disorder”.
“Basically I just get the dole” says Fred, “I’ve never been a good criminal, so I’ve never been there. Well, any bloke who locks his car door to siphon petrol because he wants to go to a party in the hills at 2 am, doesn’t make a good criminal. There was no servo open, so we siphoned petrol and me and my cousin bolted back to the car. My cousin got in but my door was locked and I almost broke my finger trying to open it. I fumbled with my keys while the bloke took down my rego. I was charged with theft and that stopped me from being a security guard. When I got to this party, there was no party”.
“The reason why I live on the streets . . .” Ray starts “is because most of society is motivated by greed and they come to work to give their lives to someone else and look down at us . . . the streeties. My family disowned me when I was 13 and I stopped working when I was 17. They didn’t let me come home so I had nowhere else to go and I’ve been on and off the streets ever since. I’ve been married for 15 years and I’ve got four kids. My mother in law told my wife, if she didn’t leave me, she wouldn’t get any inheritance. Society is not very attractive. Stand back and watch it. It’s an ugly thing because it was set up by the churches, controlled by the churches and the only ones to benefit are the religious”.
Fred stands up to go. “I’m on the streets through a divorce and losing my family . . . my kids. I had nowhere else to go but I felt free. You don’t need to answer to anyone but your own motivation. I’ll catch you guys later”.