Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


My seasons among the homeless

  • 19 July 2019


The grand old man of Greek philosophy, Aristotle, is said to have declared, 'To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.' Odds are, after he'd made the pronouncement, Ari toddled off home from the agora to tuck himself in comfortably.

This year for the second year running, I have been doing fortnightly graveyard shifts with homeless blokes in Melbourne's outer-eastern suburbs. A handful of local churches have opened their doors, feeding and accommodating up to 12 men each night during the winter months. The men are processed through Wesley Mission. They get bussed to a different church each day, where they can doss on a camp stretcher, watch TV, grab a shower, eat and talk in a warm, safe environment.

The rules and regulations these guys have to abide by — the behavioural hoops they need to navigate — are designed to protect them, the volunteers and the property of the host churches. They include sensible agreements such as abstaining from threatening or using violence or illicit drugs on the premises, as well as more challenging rules, such as not smoking outside of agreed areas and times; and even agreeing to stay inside the shelter's bounds during proscribed hours. 

It is an ethical dilemma — the ceding of some normally inviolate personal freedoms for the use of the facilities. But the homeless men are seemingly in no position to argue the toss. I don't know how I would feel about it if I was in their shoes.

When you can't or don't sleep soundly because of the climate or the real fear of getting bashed or robbed, there can be no peace of mind or sense of wellbeing. This is the reality for more than 116,000 Australians each night, according to ABS research released last year. That equates with 50 homeless people for every 10,000 of us. Or 40 people over the capacity of my local winter shelter program.


It's three in the morning, and my cup of pretend coffee is cold. I'd had an hour's kip (the volunteer staff try to get some sleep during the shift) and come back into an active role at 4am, on the tail-end of a yarn with one bloke who was quite shaken up. Earlier that day, he'd performed CPR on his overdosed mate, keeping him breathing until the ambos arrived. His mate had recovered well, but he — the