Twice in the last month, I have been approached by people asking me if I could spare them a little money because they were hungry. One was a woman at the shops just down the hill from where I live in the inner city. The other was in the Brisbane Arcade in the city. I was looking in a shop window when I heard a voice say, “Excuse me.” I turned to see a very thin man. He apologised profusely, saying he didn’t want to be rude but he was really hungry. I asked him if there was anything in particular that he wanted.
“I dunno,” he replied. “Maybe just some chips?”
I had no cash on me (who does these days?) but said I’d go to the ATM and get him some. As we walked, he asked me how I went in the recent flood. “Fine,” I told him. We are high up. What about you?” I asked, adding, “you’re on the street?”
“Yeah, I’m on the street,” he replied, but told me the place where he and a lot of people often sleep, over near Lang Park stadium, had flooded, so they had to find somewhere else. Then he said, “You know, sometimes people come and throw petrol on homeless people and set them on fire. Nobody hears about it.” No we don’t.
I have lived, albeit briefly, in a third-world/developing/majority world country (choose your preferred term); Brisbane is far from being that, and yet, thousands in this city (5813 according to the 2016 census) are homeless and some of them are hungry.
BUT, there are a lot of people out there doing their best to help. I volunteer once a month with Rosies Friends on the Street . They go out every day and night to connect with those who just need a place to go and have a cup tea and a chat. They also offer snacks, toiletries and blankets, and can connect patrons, as they are always called, to other services if needed. Sometimes Orange Sky Laundry and Showers set up nearby. Patrons can put on a load of washing, have a shower, a cup of tea, and a chat. Micah Projects run a “Street to Home” van to give people a safe lift to wherever they happen to be staying, assuming they have anywhere. A nurse from Micah often comes to help Rosies patrons with any health concerns. There are Fishers of Men who offer hot meals, Valley Hearts in Fortitude Valley, and in West End, Food Not Bombs set up every Friday night in Bunyapa Park and offer hot food, salads, bread, and a chat.
Of course, anyone can go along to these places and get a free meal. No one checks your homelessness credentials or asks you to explain why you’re there. And the food, especially at Food Not Bombs, is good.
There are a lot of reasons why people become homeless and not all of them are easily solved, but Finland has successfully implemented a “Zero Homelessness” strategy, so why not Brisbane?