I saw an old lady the other day as I was walking up the exit ramp at Camberwell Train Station. I was listening to The Fauves with my lime green ear buds. She was stopping people as they walked by. I guessed she needed directions.

She was well-dressed and pushing one of those tartan old lady trolleys. She looked eighty years old or more. Others had stopped for her so I scurried past but I didn’t feel comfortable. There was something strange in the way people were interacting with her. I continued up the ramp to cross Cookson St and get my double espresso from Collective Espresso. Then I stopped.

A girl who always catches the same train and occasionally catches my eye was walking straight behind me. At my surprising stop she looked down to her right and did this awkward loop around me having to walk the wrong way down the footpath for a few metres before turning to cross the road. I must have had on my intimidating tie.

The old lady wasn’t asking for directions. The body language of people who approached her suggested she was asking for money. People approached her with genuine interest and then backed away as though she was a homeless beggar.

I never give money to beggars. Actually that is wrong. I used to sometimes. Then I remembered seeing one spending my dollars on a Slurpee instead of a train ticket and my heart hardened. Now my kind, wonderful wife does the heavy lifting in the charity stakes and gives when her heart tells her too.

Standing at the curb. Should I go back? I figured I would be spared embarrassment because she possibly hadn’t seen me walk past the first time. I took out my ear buds, checked my wallet and walked back down the ramp and made deliberate eye contact.

“How’s it going?”

“Would you have some money to charge up a Myki?”

“Sure. Everybody should be able to get around”

“God Bless you dear”

Money Queen (@Doug88888 via Flickr)

Later the same day I was crossing the Yarra River at Southgate Bridge. There was a young man sitting on the ground near the Flinders Street station entrance. He had a sign that said “Homeless, Hungry, Hopeful”. There were hundreds of people walking by each minute. It was peak hour. He had a lot of foot traffic, a great location for begging and he’d even done some signage with basic alliteration. It was definitely his location.

He was dirty, unkempt and in old clothes. Sitting cross-legged with his face angled down, his manky hair over his face. Looked like a proper beggar. I had no idea on his story. He looked homeless and a real desperate case. But he also looked like he was cultivating the desperate look and this annoyed me. He had a technique to his trade.

A colleague later mentioned he knew of this guy. He’d passed him many times on his way to work in Southbank. Together we figured he might be “doubling his dole”. If he replaced his current signage with “Double my Dole” I doubt he’d collect much!

In any case, this had obviously become a regular hustle for the guy. Maximising his meagre returns. A basic human instinct.

Now I know nothing of homelessness. But some quick googling suggests 4000 homeless people in Melbourne and 20,000 in Victoria. And this is one guy. There must be a hell of a lot we homed-people don’t see.

It didn’t really concern me as I walked off that I was going to see the face of Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud, talk about architecture. You know… homes.

Without Money (Toban Black via Flickr)

The next day I went for coffee with my work mates. When I had to pay I looked at my empty wallet.

“Shit, my wife cleaned me out this out this morning. Can you spot me?”


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laura
    Nov 02, 2013 @ 19:54:14

    Good topic Craig. So, when you next see the guy at Flinders St what is your plan?


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