Rich Carrie, 39, has been sleeping rough in the Melbourne CBD for over eight months.
“It’s depressing, cold and miserable. It’s really hard cause you think ‘I’m still here. I’m still on the street. When is this ever going to end?’”
Rich hasn’t always been homeless, he grew up in a working class family with a normal education and family life. Rich hasn’t had any run-ins with the law or issues with drugs or alcohol.
But like most in his predicament, Rich said “it’s a mix of things” that contributed to him being where he is today.
“A part of it is that I deal with anxiety and depression,” Rich said.
“I also don’t really have any qualifications and because of my anxiety, I find it very hard to deal with jobs where I’ve got a boss and pressures.”
Rich is just one of the 22,773 people experiencing homelessness in Victoria this year. No two cases are identical, yet there are similarities among those living it rough.
According to Homelessness Australia, 33 per cent of homelessness cases are a result of domestic violence or relationship breakdowns. Issues such as drug or alcohol addiction only makes up 3 per cent.
There are services working to support these people though; Melbourne City Mission is striving to ‘break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage’.
“We try to give people the opportunity to go out and find work,” Melbourne City Mission Senior Manager of Homelessness, Accommodation & Support Services’ Sonia Chudiak said.
“Then they can choose where they want to live as opposed to having to go down the limited pathway of public housing.”
Lack of government support has meant this hasn’t always been easy to achieve. In recent times, there’s been a significant shortfall in the amount of properties and facilities available to assist the homeless.
Yet Sonia Chudiak is optimistic about the future.
“We haven’t had a lot of policy platform since the last government,” Chudiak said. “However the current government is doing some significant consultation with the sector.”
“The fact that they’re calling on agencies to come to the table and have significant imput in what they’re planning for the future is really welcomed.”
Chudiak believes it’s time to look at ‘sustainable options’ to support the homeless as opposed to just “quick fix crisis accommodation”.
“There needs to be significant change in the way we provide affordable housing,” Chudiak said.
“We need to put the money currently spent on crisis accommodation towards setting people up and getting them into longer term housing.”
It’s not just the practical side that needs to be dealt with. Stigma is another issue holding back Victoria’s homeless.
“I guess a lot of people think people on the street are either violent or alcoholics or drug addicts,” Co-founder of Homeless of Melbourne, Marcus Crook said. “But that’s a pretty nasty thing to think of people who are, in most cases, just doing it tough.”
Homeless of Melbourne has been one of the front-runners in breaking down the barriers between Melbourne’s homeless and the general public.
Crook, his friends Nick Pearce and Robbie Gillies, started the Homeless of Melbourne Facebook page just over a year ago. There they document the stories of homeless people in the CBD.
In December last year, they created a street store at Federation Square where the public could come and donate new clothing to be given to the homeless.
“It went really well and the amount of clothing we received was overwhelming.” Crook said.
Homeless of Melbourne now run the HoMie store in Melbourne Central.
“For every transaction in store we give away an item of clothing to someone who is homeless,” Crook said.
“It’s facilitated through our VIP shopping days where we invite a service into the store and they bring in their clients in need of new clothing and a bit of a lift.”
It’s stuff that they actually want and like, rather than hand-me-downs or scrappy old clothing.”
HoMie is also a driving supporter of Rich Carrie’s passion and talent for art.
“My artwork, when I first started busking, was purely to make money for food while I looked for a job,” Rich said.
“I hadn’t done art in years but I suddenly fell in love with it again and people were really positive about the work.”
“The guys at HoMie have been really supportive. They started storing my paintings at the store for safety and they’ve offered their shop as a place to host my mini exhibition on October 17th.”
Although Rich never wanted to be in this situation, he’s still positive and remains thankful for the support he receives from others.
“There were articles earlier in the year saying ‘Victorians don’t help the homeless’ but I haven’t experienced that,” Rich said.
“Although I get negative looks at times, generally most people in Victoria have been very kind, sweet and helpful towards me.”
“You have to remember the homeless are just another society, and like any other society, you get your good and your bad,” Rich said.
“At the end of the day, we are just normal people just trying to get on with life like anybody else.”
(First published in Catalyst Magazine in October 2015)