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Surviving the cold, small hours

  • 07 June 2022
There is nothing quite as Melburnian as sitting cozily next to a brazier outside a cafe, or an alleyway eatery, at Fed Square or down Carlton way, with cooked breakfast and your caffeine of choice at hand. I’m ensconced at Southbank as some poor sod rows down the Yarra, fighting a head wind and horizontal rain. 

Winter is upon us, and the middle-aged men in lycra peddling past have conceded the fact by donning hideously cheerful raincoats. Squads of joggers splash past with several thin layers on, the better to avoid the ‘Rona, or the seasonal bugs laying waste to semi-returned office teams. Even the dogs, promenading with tired humans in tow, waiting to pick up excreta, wear luminous winter coats. Scattered parental units are clad in Inuit-worthy garb, umbrellas to the fore; pity their offspring obscured in moon buggies.

I sit my weekendly vigil watching the parade, listening to trams clang down St Kilda Road, over the Princes Bridge to Flinders Street Station. I scatter croissant crumbs, crinkly bits of bacon and eggy bits to sparrows, Indian mynas, magpies and seagulls. They flock disorderedly. They’re not getting my coffee though.

It looks like a triumphant return to some kind of normal, with inter-staters flying in to catch a show and luxuriate in glammed up hotels. Such is my idle idyll. But a klick across the river, as usual, hundreds of people are rocking up to chase down support from long-suffering churches and services.

Unless you are up high, in the snow lands, winter in Australia is not the extreme bogey it manifests as in colder lands, where people who live on the streets are found dead on the streets. Inadequate or non-existent shelter, clothing and heating, however, produce a host of physical, cognitive and psychological health issues. Misery rises as temperatures fall.

'There’s nothing wrong with us enjoying a quiet breakfast and admiring the beauty of a winter city steeped in recovery. If we can’t also see the people sleeping on cold concrete, or sitting half-dressed, with no hope, peering through unfocused eyes, then we’re not getting the whole picture.'

Kiara (not her real name) has lived rough, after years of being in and out of state care. Her skin is jaundiced, her teeth are rotten, her eyes are a vivid, often unfocused blue. She can be aggressive with social workers and support staff, as well as her fellow homeless Australians.

Things went up a notch