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Cleaning our streets of beggars: our third world

By Lyn Bender - posted Friday, 22 March 2013


Pope Francis 1 has chosen his name in honour of St Francis Of Assisi, who cared for the poor , but do we? I pass them every day, on the streets of Melbourne. Sometimes I am one amongst the many who barely give them a second glance. At other times I stoop to drop coins in their polystyrene cup, or the traditionally upturned hat.

They are the professional beggars of Melbourne, so called, by Robert Doyle. They are to be brought before the courts and put on diversionary programs. He aims to revitalize the streets.

These are the same streets where the laneways emit the unmistakeable aroma and reveal the debris of the cashed up late night revellers; acrid beer, cigarette butts, discarded cans and stale urine.

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By day the true professionals, and office workers of the CBD fill the streets and pathways never giving way, as they march en route to their offices in air conditioned glass towers. I am going against the stream as I live in the CBD and head out to my office in the relative quiet of St.Kilda Rd. But day and night, week day or weekend the beggars sit and stare , often with their life story scrawled on a square of brown cardboard.  "I am Ben and I am homeless …. Please help."

At other times I pass by a barely audible murmur from a man bundled in clothes. "Spare some change please"

Yes, that elusive thing called change that the Mayor hopes to bring to their lives, with some tough judicial love.

It is perhaps only a co-incidence that the clean- up is announced at the same time as the Melbourne Grande Prix tourists hit the Melbourne streets.

I am thankful that the rain has pelted down at last, after a prolonged autumn heatwave. I like many others have complained about the endless heat but now scurry thankfully for shelter from the cool rains. Where do the homeless go? I don't ask them. I don't want to hear the lies or the truth. Their faces and bodies tell their story.

Overdressed in the heat because they have nowhere to store clothes; blackened teeth, prematurely aged skin, matted hair and emitting an unmistakeable odour of no fixed address. They do not scan iPhones or participate in the social media revolution. They are the under-class ,who are below the first rung of our prospering nation's ladder of success. They are the ones who are left behind Including victims of violence, Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders and more recently asylum seekers, many of whom do not have the right to work under VISA regulations. There are also the abused the young, the old, and some suffering a mental illness. But why do they choose to sleep on park benches in doorways and under bridges.

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Why don't they go to emergency shelters? The answer is there are simply not enough shelters. Those that exist are not viewed as safe or secure. What we provide is tokenistic.

It is an age-old device :to remove from sight that which may prick your conscience or offend your sensibilities. The poor and desperate are unsightly and untidy.

'Clean ups' of whole slum areas and beggars often occur before major events such as Olympics or Commonwealth Games.

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About the Author

Lyn Bender is a psychologist in private practice. She is a former manager of Lifeline Melbourne and is working on her first novel.

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