The Big Issue : Edition 447
THEBIGISSUE6--25DEC2013 11 WHAT I SEE, ONE YEAR ON MY WORD THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE are having breakfast at the Salvation Army's City Temple in Bourke Street. They blend in with the crowd because experience has taught them that standing out means trouble. Most have had their fghting spirit knocked out of them and just gaze at the food with reverence. It's unseasonably wet and cold. The middle-aged man next to me wears a raincoat and thongs. After fnishing his yoghurt, baked beans, toast and cofee, he pats his stomach and exclaims "Ah, that was real good!" The Salvos' cafe is a foothold in a slippery world, stafed by friendly, cheerful volunteers. The woman sitting opposite me wraps up her Weet-Bix in a paper serviette for later. The old man on my right is still eating. He cradles his arm around a bowl of cereal, then looks up to check the room on each side as if he fears someone might take his breakfast away. Things have changed from last year. A slow-burning anger seethes inside many people. Sometimes it erupts at the wrong target -- people like Matthew Daniels, who runs the cafe. He shrugs of the verbal abuse and tries to comfort the distressed man, who just needs a safety valve. Marginalised people feel shafted by the rest of the world, but often they cannot fgure out why. Support agencies do a fantastic job with meagre resources but many of the needy still fall through the cracks, which are getting wider. Welfare recipients claim that at Centrelink decisions are made by computers pre-set with strict criteria, leaving no room for human fragility. Computers decide what income support should be given and ask complex questions. One wrong answer can leave you with little or no money for months or even bump you of the system. The devil is in the details. While selling The Big Issue at Melbourne Central Station in Elizabeth Street, I see lots of the same faces each day. They are like actors with walk- on parts, going through their paces over and over until they get it right. The Christmas decorations are up already. One of them, hanging from the building's ceiling, resembles a giant Life Saver with the word GIVE over it. And give they do -- even to the beggars that many don't see. A commuter running to catch his train notices a young man holding an empty plastic cup, with his scrawled plea on a piece of cardboard. The commuter stops and empties his pockets of change. Others ofer cofee, a sandwich, words. The message is: "Hang in there! Live strong!" Beggars are regularly ordered away by security guards or the police, but desperation drives them back. Single mothers represent one of the hardest-hit groups. Rental accommodation is increasingly unafordable and many of them end up homeless with their children, sleeping in cars or unregistered boarding houses. This can be dangerous, says Kerry Davies -- a project worker at the Council of Single Mothers and their Children. "This year, all single parents have been taken of the parenting payment and put on Newstart when their child turns eight," Ms Davies says. "That means a loss of about $100. They are expected to work full time, which is unrealistic. Children that age need help getting to and from school and they do get sick. Few employers allow you to take time of in an emergency. Without family support, life is constant juggling and stress." Down in Albert Park, my regular pitch 15 minutes south of the CBD, there is a deceptive air of wellbeing and stability. The needy have been driven out of sight, but Archdeacon Ray McInnes and some local volunteers who work at the church near the old station know better. They welcome everyone with a hot meal at fve o’clock every Sunday. The demand is constant, and growing. Since major roadworks recently, the area looks smoother and well cared for. Cobblestones are gone but their memory lingers. The Biltmore, a stately mansion in Bridport Street that was once a cofee palace serving non- alcoholic drinks, has been converted to luxury apartments. In Dundas Street, men and women sit at sidewalk cafes holding contented dogs on their laps. Back in the city, the Bourke Street Mall is awash with nostalgia. The Myer Christmas windows that star Gingerbread Friends might well have been lifted from your granny's picture book. Old-fashioned red and green bells with gold stars hang from overhead wires. In Elizabeth Street, the derelict Argus building, where some of my homeless buddies slept, is getting an expensive facelift and undergoing renovations. Venerable Flinders Street Station may even be re-modelled in a multi-million-dollar project. Run-down but signifcant buildings are rehabilitated. The invisible people are left to crumble. Mariann B sells The Big Issue in central Melbourne and Albert Park. ON THIS PAGE A YEAR AGO, BIG ISSUE VENDOR MARIANN B WROTE 'VIEWS FROM MY PITCH', DESCRIBING CITY LIFE UNFOLDING AROUND HER AS CHRISTMAS APPROACHED. TWELVE MONTHS ON, SHE REPORTS BACK...