Life in the laneway

gary on hosier laneMelbourne’s Hosier Lane is one of the best known cultural attractions in the city, with many tourists visiting the laneway to take photos of the colourful street art.

The strip is also home to a number of rough sleepers who use the alcoves in the lane as shelter.

Last week, a Herald Sun report described Hosier Lane as a “thriving drug den” with frequent violence and anti-social behaviour. One store owner said homeless people living in the area are hurting Melbourne’s reputation.

Some of the alcoves leading into the Forum Theatre have been boarded up. A spokesman for the theatre said this move was part of planned building works and was not related to the recent media reports.

Crosslight recently spoke to Gary, who was visiting the Youth Projects Living Room drop-in centre inside Hosier Lane to collect medication. The drop-in centre provides free medical check-ups and healthcare for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“We try to keep this area as peaceful as possible and say hello to people,” he said.

“Some of us point out paintings that people miss. Most of us are helpful to them. A couple of the graphic artists come here and we show them around.

“It’s a tourist site, so why would we stuff it up for everyone?”

Many homeless people are drawn to the area because of the services provided by the Living Room, such as free showers, counselling, legal support, internet and laundry facilities.

“Most people that come here appreciate the services, so we don’t stuff it up,” Gary said.

“This place is good. It’s a hub for people to hang out. It’s a nice place. They’ve got food here for us and help for the homeless. We need more support like this.”

Gary said he has not witnessed the rampant drug use or escalating violence described by some media reports. While he acknowledged there “might be a couple of people who give the place a bad name”, he said that can happen in any city or suburb.

“Not everyone here is on drugs. Some people are just unfortunate enough to sleep here,” he said.

“Most people clean up in the alley. It’s generally kept clean and is definitely not as bad as it’s made out to be in the news.”

Homelessness is an increasingly prominent sight in Melbourne with the latest Street Count revealing a 74 per cent increase in the number of rough sleepers in the city.

Gary said organisations like the Living Room, the Salvation Army and churches play an important role in supporting homeless but he said there is much more that could be done.

“I think infrastructure, counselling, support services and all that has been cut back in the last couple of years,” he said.

“A lot of the services have to amalgamate because the funding just isn’t there anymore.”

Gary said that unaffordable housing, long waiting lists and broken government promises have made it difficult for the homeless to secure permanent accommodation. Currently, there are more than 32,000 people on the public housing waiting list in Victoria.

“It’s just very, very hard for people in low-income situations and who are genuinely trying. I see some people with kids and they’ve been sleeping on the streets for years waiting for housing,” he said.

“They don’t go out and do crime and do drugs – the majority of us just try to get along day-by-day, step-by-step. It’s very hard. Very hard.”


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