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Byron Shire
June 7, 2023

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: So You Think You’re Homeless?

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There is a popular attitude towards homelessness that I find perplexing and idiotic. It comes directly from the Alan Jones school of compassion and centres on ‘homeless authenticity’, namely, that there are two types of homeless people. People who are really homeless and people who pretend to be homeless for some advantage.

This is the uninvited opinion offered by my Über driver. I’m in Melbourne, staying in the city. It’s hard to ignore homeless people. They fall like autumn leaves, accumulating on benches, outside shops, on steps. In the day, many lie sleeping in elaborate improvised street beds. A box opened beside them asking for some spare change. It’s sleep begging. A more visceral version of a GoFundMe campaign, with a less impressive outcome. No honey catcher, but instead a cup of tea, maybe a pie, maybe ice or smack or alcohol.

I drop in a few bucks and look at her face. This homeless person is a young woman. She’s sleeping outside Strandbags. Thousands of people will file past her. She will go largely unseen. Somehow she sleeps in the chaos. Sleeping Beauty. Asleep for 100 years. There’s no handsome prince for this poor darling. Life looks pretty bloody shit. If her prince did turn up he’d probably just rape her and take her beggar’s fare.

She’s not much older than my daughter. I imagine how I’d feel if she were my child. I look at her sleeping face. The thin white skin stretched over sharp bones. Translucent. No glow of health in those young cheeks. I try and imagine her baby face. It’s easy when people are sleeping, that shadow of their once sweet child floats in the stillness. I am moved and appalled by her vulnerability.

I wonder who cares about her. If anyone cares about her. I wonder what happened to the sleeping girl wrapped in a pink synthetic blanket. Who she was before this? What she wanted. What she dreamed about.

It’s very hard to shop when confronted with sleeping homeless girls. Versace is just around the corner. I imagine she’s got a drug problem. That she uses her money to score. That’s never concerned me when it comes to giving. I’m happy to chip in for someone’s drug problem; if it helps them get through the day then that’s a good thing. I’m no agent of change or monitor of public morality. Giving someone $2 is nothing for me.

But not for Barry the Über driver; he’s championing the homeless version of the Noble Savage. He wants proper drug- and dog-free homeless people who just fell on bad times. ‘Now they bring dogs with them,’ he complains. ‘Try to get people’s sympathy. Some of them are making $1,000 a day.’ Really, Barry? ‘They need to get rid of those ones.’ Oh, I see. Like a ‘So are you really a homeless person audition?’ Some sort of ‘are you truly suffering to warrant my $2 donation kerbside test?’

I see how this thing works now. In order to walk past human degradation on a daily basis and not feel the pain of their miserable lives, it’s easier to think ‘that’s not really a homeless person. That’s an opportunist.’ Then instead of feeling compassion and a need to act, you get the easy way out: you get to hate them. Dehumanise.

I don’t know about you, but I think if you’ve reached that point in your life when you are prepared to impersonate a homeless person, then you’d pretty well have to be on the bones of your arse. I’m certainly not going to do it. I don’t know anyone who would. So maybe the person isn’t technically ‘homeless’; maybe they’re just broke and desperate. Isn’t impersonating a homeless person a form of street art then? Aren’t they just busking?

Barry makes another bullshit comment: ‘I don’t give them money. I buy them lunch.’ Whatever you need to tell yourself, Barry, to get through the day. Barry is clearly a hateful little prick. We’re driving past another allegedly fake homeless person. Barry’s off on another tirade. He has so many stories about corrupt street beggars. Barry’s not alone. His sentiment is part of the reason there is no solution. Because in the end no-one is prepared to act, prepared to improve the life of the homeless in case we start a rush.

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  1. Well said. being not a wordsmith i couldnt say better myself . Where is the compassion gone for people doing it tough. Bastard Barry needs to go to Oz with Dorothy and get a bloody heart! ♡

  2. Mandy, I read your story this morning. I must say it gave me a really good laugh to be honest. I lived in Melbourne for a number of years recently and I know what you are referring to with these homeless people. My Son who is still very much connected to friends who live in the city, and it seems everyone knows everyone if you hang in the city. But yes there is an art to this homeless world down there, and sleeping is known as a form of begging, and they try whatever they can to make a dollar. But I have to VERY much agree with you, if you have reached that point in your life where you are prepared to impersonate a homeless person then you are definitely on the bare bones of your arse. If they make $1000 a day, then wow good for them, its really hard to actually sit there or sleep on the street (very uncomfortable by the way) , so if they make a living that way – then good.
    We all do what we have to.


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