An Alcove in Parliament House

On Wednesday 5th July at the Defend And Extend Public Housing Australia rally on the steps of the Victorian State Parliament in Spring St, Melbourne, I noticed a tall 30 something unshaven lanky man join the rally. He listened intently to all the speakers. At the end of the rally he came up to have a few words with me. He told me he was from Ballarat and was homeless. He wanted to join Public Interests Before Corporate Interests (PIBCI) and wanted to know if he could use his mother’s address in Ballarat. He told me he wasn’t on the electoral roll. I told him it didn’t matter. He filled out the application form with his shaky hand. I wished him the best, told him his membership card would be sent to his mother’s home and went down the road to join some of the people who had gone to the rally, for a coffee.

As I walked down Bourke St I noticed about 60 metres from Parliament House a homeless person had made their home in an alcove of a building that was earmarked for demolition. The tell tale signs of homelessness filled the alcove, dirty blankets and a few empty bottles of water. On the way back I noticed it was the home of the very same homeless man I had been speaking to. He was laying under the blankets reading the Defend and Extend Public Housing literature I had given him.

That night I sent off his PIBCI membership card to his mother’s address and promptly forgot all about him. At the Defend and Extend Public Housing rally on the steps of Parliament House on Wednesday 9th August I remembered our friend but didn’t notice him in the crowd. At the end of the rally, after I packed away the banner and the PA system, I walked down Bourke St looking for him. I stopped for a coffee with a few other people from the rally. On the way back I kept a lookout for the homeless man I’d met in July. I thought I must be going mad because I couldn’t see the alcove he’d been sleeping in. He was sleeping rough less than 70 metres from Parliament House in the middle of a cold and wet winter. I assumed he’d been given accommodation as his presence so close to Parliament House would have embarrassed the parliamentarians as they went out for a bite, a smoke or a breath of fresh air.

For the life of me I couldn’t find the alcove he’d been sleeping in, despite walking up and down the top end of Bourke St three or four times. I decided to walk down very slowly one more time, counting each step I took. When I reached the spot where the alcove should have been I noticed it had been boarded up. Yes, boarded up!!! The little bit of shelter our friend used to shelter from the wind and cold had been boarded up and posters had been put on the hoarding. No wonder I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t believe what had happened. Such a petty vindictive act. You can’t have the homeless too close to Parliament House, they lower the tone of parliament – or is it the other way around?

Dr. Joseph Toscano

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