By Peta Edmonds
The homeless are under the bridges we walk over. They sleep in 24-hour bank foyers to get out of the rain while I get my money out. They are the ghosts of the dawn, carelessly placed like newspapers thrown on front lawns.
I see them from the Paris end of Collins Street to Southern Cross station, from across the road at St Paul's Cathedral to the little church of St Peter's getting breakfast while sitting on milk crates. I see them with their dogs and cats which I stop to pat. Once I saw a girl and a big box her dog slept under. It's no good to just throw a few coins into their hats, that will never change it.
Many times when I give money, I've knelt and asked them their name and told them mine. I asked them how they are. I've given twenty dollar notes, mostly fivers for a survivor, or cigarettes when I smoked. Nearly every time they say 'God Bless.' I feel like I have prayed for them and they have prayed for me.
The homeless are different to beggars. Usually they are without Centrelink payments because they have no fixed address. They are running from domestic abuse, sexual abuse, drug abuse. Beggars go up and down trams and trains asking for money, the homeless are silent, with cardboard signs. They seem resigned to sit on the cold concrete watching the soles of people's feet. Once I saw a couple huddling together for warmth in the cold wind that blows like a piper up Collins Street, Melbourne's richest street.
They dig in the dark like luckless gold miners for a little kindness. There's the girl who complained of a headache from the cold who I gave a little gold. Some homeless sell the Big Issue magazine, calling out like town criers.
Once I got off the tram and saw a group of homeless people sitting by the brass dog with a banner 'Hashtag Homeless.' I got talking to them, curious, as they sat peeling and eating from a big crate of mandarins. They didn't want my money. 'Don't give money to the homeless,' they say. It creates too much derision. They say a good way to help the mentally ill and the homeless is to give them some cigarettes, or sign their petition to end homelessness.
One man said it rained on his head last night and he got dripping wet, another said it was so cold it was like it was taking bites out of him.
The city doesn't need any more pity. A tourist I met was shocked by the number of homeless she saw. It has quadrupled in the city in recent years, and the world's most liveable city is losing its ranking because of situations like this.
They live hand to mouth, their habits are hand to mouth, they wait on housing lists for years. Once I saw a girl in tears, and a silver angel that didn't speak, only wave.
Each night I return like a princess to my palace. Why is the world so unbalanced?
Peta Edmonds is a writer living in Melbourne