“Do not fear to step into the unknown for where there is risk, there is also reward” Lori Hard

Immersion Into Homelessness — Sleeping Rough Part Two — Into the Night

“Some nights are made for torture, or reflection, or the savoring of loneliness.” ― Poppy Z.Brite

Before continuing with part two I wanted to make a couple of points at this juncture.

1. Howard, Tom and I chose to immerse ourselves into homelessness and sleep rough for a night. However, for us we were able to jump into our cars the next day and go back to our homes, families and beds.

2. The reality for most population that end up sleeping rough is they do not have this choice, they find themselves living (I will use that term loosely) on the street due to many different reasons, a relationship breakdown, an abusive relationship, financial difficulties or health reasons. For these people they already have to contend with the trauma that has brought them to this place in their life, they then have to deal and try to cope with this place. They do not have the luxury of jumping into a car the next day and going home, they simply do not have one.

Thursday 7th November — Early Evening.

5.15pm Howard, Tom and I walked up Ann Street heading towards St Georges Square. I had the first shift with the backpack and it now had further items added before we left and was now full. The weather was warm and humid as we walked and talked.

We had decided to cut across St Georges Square towards Adelaide Street which is normally a spot where many people stay and sleep. We stopped in the Square and discussed the rough route we would take, shot a quick video and we then became spectators. My first observation kicked in pretty quickly as we were now disconnecting ourselves from normal life, watching people go about their everyday life was strange to watch, people on their way home, catching up with friends in coffee shops, bars, shopping etc. a life so close but at least for now so very far away.

As we navigated our way around the CBD, we covered most of the main arterial roads around the main shopping precinct without seeing much activity, there were a few spots where blankets and some belongings were left, we walked past Queens Plaza on the way down towards Edward Street, a woman lay sleeping just outside St Georges Bank on some blankets, her head was hidden from view and what belongings she had were against a pillar with what looked like a cup of soda next her. Opposite where she slept is the Louis Vuitton shop, an interesting convergence of where poverty meets luxury I thought.

We decided to head down Edward Street towards the botanical gardens another area associated with those who sleep rough. The Gardens are very beautiful, and they run parallel to the Brisbane river, so it was a hive of activity between people exercising and those zooming by on both bicycles and Lime scooters. With the walking we had done up to this point, it started to become obvious to me that wearing jeans was probably not the best wardrobe decision I had made, they were heavy, and my legs were beginning to sweat, I looked over to Howard who was wearing shorts, he looked happy as we wandered along Bunya Walk. Yeah should’ve worn the shorts Norm I thought to myself.

For the uninitiated strolling along Bunya Walk is very beautiful and relaxing, worth doing if you haven’t done so already. When you get to the end you are presented with the QUT Gardens Point University Campus on one side and on the other is the entrance to the Goodwill Bridge which connects to Southbank. To each side of the bridge are a number of large fig trees which have LED lights running through them, so when it is dark they look magical, like something out of a fairy-tale.

Tom was keen to walk underneath all of the majesty of the fig trees towards the bridge as under here is also known to be an area where people sleep. We walked through what seemed like an enchanted forest, there were a number of people there taking photos and enjoying the beauty of the trees, we continued on, with people staring at us. Naturally those who stared would have been thinking “Are they homeless?” and looking to get some access to the shelter of the bridge. However, the area under the bridge which would have once offered shelter to a number of people had now been retrofitted with bars so access under there was no longer possible, maybe it was because it was now a tourist spot. We did spot some blankets and belongings nearby, but no one was there. Further down under the bridge towards the river someone lay on a blanket, we chose not to bother him.

The Fig Trees do look stunning at night

But this is no fairytale

It was probably around 6.30pm at this point and we decided to make our way towards Turbot Street a location which on a Thursday night food is provided by St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church Outreach Service at 7pm they hand out food to the vulnerable and homeless. We decided to take the underpass known as the Bicentennial Bikeway which runs along the river under the M3 Pacific Motorway. A lot of temporary fencing had been erected on the early part of this walk due to the construction of the Queens Wharf Project.This was once another area where the vulnerable sought shelter, we only saw remnants of where once someone may have slept, a blanket and a bag left vacant. This was yet another busy area as people jogged and bikes and scooters went by, I hadn’t seen this part of Brisbane before, it felt eerie to me and not somewhere I would want to find myself late at night.

As we found our exit point to head toward Turbot Street we walked by another area which wasn’t occupied but clearly someone was sleeping here, blankets, belongings and the first and last empty bottle of wine I saw, we assumed the person who occupied this space was just up the road waiting to get some food.

We reached our destination on time and a number of people had already started to congregate, the space was interesting to say the least, there were a number of round concrete seats dotted around, and a very strange blob art installation which hung from the top of the underpass accented by LED lights, really, what is the point and cost of that thing I thought.

Initially the number of people here would have been in the region of 20, there were some groups, there were some people in pairs and there were people on their own. The main age demographic would have been middle aged up, predominantly male, although some younger people did turn-up. A couple of cars arrived and people began instinctively forming a queue, some foldable tables and bags appeared from the cars and soon a feeding station had been set-up, during the small amount of time that had passed the number of people waiting had grew, Howard, Tom and I estimated in there were now in the region of 50–70 people present.

Our place in the queue began to move forward as people were getting served as we reached the front some young, welcoming happy faces greeted us, the first person asked me “Chicken Curry or Pasta?” — ‘Pasta Please” I replied, next a young lady asked me ‘Cheese or Cheese and Ham sandwich” I opted for the cheese and ham one, then I was offered a cold drink of cordial, tea or coffee, I opted for the cordial to begin with and grabbed a couple of cookies that were also up for grabs.

We took our food and headed over the road, we sat down on the pavement and started to tuck in. I took a photo of the queue and food, we had covered a fair bit of Brisbane by this point and to be honest I had worked up an appetite and was really hungry.

Food Queue

Cookie on each knee, Ham & Cheese Sandwich and Pasta Bolognese

Whilst we were eating our dinner a mental health service pulled up and two ladies proceeded to mingle with those that were there. I was still eating my dinner, Howard got up and headed towards the organisers of the food service and Tom got up to grab us both a coffee, people started to disperse on their bikes, someone in a car and people generally started to walk off. It was noticeable at this point quite a few had their life in bags and cases, these were the ones who were sleeping rough.

Tom came back with the coffee’s, I grabbed mine and said I will be back shortly, I headed towards Howard who was talking to the food service organisers. I said hello to (arrgghh forgot their names — forgive me) Howard had filled them in on our exercise and what Beddown is looking to achieve. I have to say there are amazing people out there who through compassion and empathy go out of their way every day to provide food and beverages to those in need, absolute legends in my view, this particular service had been running for a few years now.

I noticed one of the ladies was free and made a b-line for her, I introduced myself and tried to convince her that I wasn’t in-fact homeless, she was very good and we chatted for a while, one was a nurse the other was helping people with housing applications. This service is provided by Micah Projects and is part of the Street to Home outreach initiative.

Howard, Tom and I regrouped and left not long after 8.00pm and decided to walk back towards the centre, these damn jeans I thought! After looking for toilets in a number of venues, we eventually found some toilets that were still open in a shopping centre, after a toilet break we wanted to look for a water fountain to refill our water bottles which were now running low. One of the team went online and found one was located in Anzac Square, so we headed there, we found the fountain and tried to fill our bottles, water fountains are great to lower your head and catch the water in your mouth, but they are not well designed for filling up water bottles. Whilst at Anzac Square I spotted some electrical sockets dotted around, I had taken an older phone which is a Samsung Galaxy S6 out with me on the immersion, though it was a reasonable phone it was now a good few years old thus the battery wasn’t the best. I think at the time the charge was at 39%, bonus I thought electrical points! Let me plug it in for 20 mins and get some charge going, I tried the first socket nothing, then the second socket nothing either, all of the sockets are locked out and seemingly manually turned off and controlled by a key, bummer, my phone is not going to last the night I started to think. Toms phone was also in need of charging. This was probably the inflection point in the evening which at that time was approximately 8.30pm from here-on in was when the night started to change.

We got up and completed a loop around Central Station — the toilets closed, back down Ann Street and onto King Georges Square — De Ja Vue! Back to where we started off 3 or so hours ago. Whilst it was still very busy with people going about and enjoying their life, things were changing, I started to notice some of the people that were at the food station were now emerging. As we walked towards Adelaide Street a middle aged man was juggling balls at the entrance / exit to the station. Across the street 3–4 people were now situated at the corner by the Bupa clinic, all looked familiar from the feed earlier.

As we continued walking around more and more people were emerging, what was surprising and incredibly sad is that many were carrying / dragging what possession they had in their life with them in either laundry bags , suitcases or combination of both.

We decided to head-up towards Wickham Terrace and over to Roma Street Parklands.

9.07 pm — Lesley text me “Love ya I’m off to bed now with the phone xx”

I replied “Ok have a good sleep. Think of me, I don’t think I will be, love ya x”

Lesley replied “❤️????”

As we continued and headed towards the parklands we reached a pavilion which overlooked the train station on one side and Parkland Boulevard on the other, we stopped here briefly to lookout over the city, many high-rises and hotels, rooms and offices were randomly lit up within the buildings. I mentioned to both Howard and Tom how many rooms did we think were vacant around Brisbane tonight and if managed properly, the sleeping rough issue could be addressed very quickly, as we turned to head towards the Parklands we saw a man looking at a potential area for him to sleep for the night that would accommodate both himself and his possessions. Ironic I thought, we continued towards the Parklands had a look around and headed back towards the CBD, now we needed to find somewhere to sleep.

Looking for a place to sleep

I’ll be honest, we had covered a lot of ground by this point and I was beginning to feel physically tired, it was hot and humid, this was draining and I was wearing those damn jeans!

By now it was approximately 10.30pm we found an awesome spot just up on the corner of Edward Street and Queen Street, the Commonwealth Bank building had some steps that went up to the entry of the building but on the left hand side was access to a little side area we quickly claimed the area threw down our belongings and laid out our blankets etc. It was a very compact area and it held the humidity of the night. We looked up and there was a video camera looking directly down on the area, “I don’t think we will be here long fella’s, security will be coming shortly” I said, we all agreed that we would stay and see if we would be asked to move on by security.

Noise is interesting! It’s bloody noisy outside, especially in a busy CBD. Maybe it was because I was hyper-sensitive, but noise was an issue, there was construction, traffic and people noise all around, this would be an interesting dynamic thrown into the mix.

Tom angled himself into a sleeping position and Howard opted for a sitting position with the backpack behind him, I lay down on my back with the neck pillow undone so it became a cylindrical pillow rather wrapping around my neck, this is hard, really hard, what happened to the blanket, it didn’t feel like anything was beneath me, I turned on my side, then back on to my back. This next part is difficult to explain, but hopefully you will understand enough to gain an insight.

Concrete is brutal, inhumane, grim, harsh and unforgiving. The human body has evolved since Neanderthals and therefore not designed to be able to cope with sleeping on such a fierce surface. I think i managed 15 mins, it may have been shorter than that, my body started to rebel, my back was aching, my sides were aching, I got up which was also painful experience “Holy shit” I thought, it took a few minutes for the pain to subside and adjust, I headed out of the area and went to sit on the steps facing Queen Street, I looked down to the left and maybe only 5 meters away and a person fully covered in a blanket lay on a bench. Of all of us you chose the better spot I thought.

That moment was quite a visceral experience and there and then I understood it, I could see the path and slope a person is on when they are faced with sleeping rough, the isolation, loss of dignity and disconnection from normal life and a spiral into the potential mental health issues that would lead to alcohol or substance abuse, I could see it clearly. We allow this happen to people i thought, if we treated animals this way it would be seen as cruelty, but we accept it with our people? Homelessness is always someone else’s problem isn’t it?

People enjoying their Thursday night passed frequently, maybe they saw me in their peripheral vision but no one looked at me directly.

Howard joined me a few minutes later similarly his body also rebelled, Tom followed shortly after, he instinctively knew we would not be staying as he had the backpack and everything else in his hands when he joined us. We packed everything up and left. No security guards needed!

Concrete, brutal, grim, harsh and unforgiving.

The better choice

11.40pm’ish, we headed back towards the mall, we found some toilets, I saw some more electrical points, my phone was now on about 30%, lets give these a try, nada! Wondering around the mall, some of the benches began to be claimed as people started to settle in for their night, an elderly lady with a red tea cosy hat on (we estimated her to be in her late 60’s) with a suitcase and some bags was just getting ready to go to sleep. This deeply shocked me I will keep my language kinda clean here but you don’t want to know how messed-up this is. This is someones Mother, Grandmother, Sister etc. like the others we saw during the night someones son, brother, fathers etc. this is all total bull-shit and wrong, very wrong.

As not to seem like a homeless tourist, I refrained from taking my phone out to take photo’s, out of respect and dignity.

All three of us kept walking and found some water fountains, refilled our bottles, the fountains are truly crap for this I will reiterate, we doubled back on ourselves and headed back the way we had come, there was a Hungry Jacks open and thought it might be good to go in there and see if we could charge our phones. The lady with the red tea cosy hat looked like she was sleeping as we walked by, I shook my head.

Tom ran into Hungry Jacks and ran out just as quickly, the upstairs area was closed and someone downstairs was already hogging the charging point (how dare he!) . We saw some people head in to the McDonalds opposite, we all headed over there.

An escalator took us up in to the Golden arches, it was now just after mid-night, the first thing that struck me was wow it’s busy here, people had headed here after bars and clubs. I saw someone on a laptop set up on a bench, oohh could there be some McCharging points i thought. We headed over towards the benches, YES a row of USB McCharging points were lined up along the bench, each one with a blue circle glowing to highlight, nice touch! Before i could pull out my charger Howard and Thomas spotted a table at the back of the restaurant with some powerpoints, we headed there, charger out plugged in and started McCharging!

Sitting at the table isolated with our water was another sense of disconnection from the normality of people enjoying their food, boy did it smell good! People looked at us every now and then, but quickly looked away if they caught our glance. An elderly man with a couple of bags of belongings came in and also sat at a table, he picked up a paper in his hands and had a smile on his face, he looked content to be in a comfortable and air-conditioned place to pass the time.

At 89% and after 40 minutes Tom and I unplugged our chargers and we all headed out of the restaurant, we walked a little more and found somewhere to sit down and reflect on the last few hours. Trying to sleep on concrete, the brutality, the noise, the elderly and empty rooms across the CBD were discussed. Discussions then turned to sleeping arrangements and where to next, benches were the next bed of choice, we just had to go and find some.

Now it was nearly around 1am and we had walked up by the Treasury Casino, when we got there, I was like wow, there were a lot of people out of the front of the casino and around it on blankets sleeping, i wasn’t expecting that! We continued walking past the casino, i tried to do a quick count, i would estimate around 15 people were there. We got to Queens Gardens and the benches were free of any sleepers.

Intermission Time! watch the video below and I will be right back on the other side.

So as you can see we tried benches and Tom tried the grass, all i can say on this is, it’s not as brutal as concrete but it’s so uncomfortable, the lights and noise were also a factor and in the mix as issues. Three men came out of the casino and made their way over to the gardens, they were messing about at the other end of the gardens, obviously inebriated, I became alert at this point as they would look over every now and then in our direction, I had heard stories of the homeless being attacked and mugged by those who had came out of pubs and clubs. We had specifically chosen a night to avoid the weekends for this very reason, i continued to watch the three guys messing about and eventually after 30 minutes or so they moved on somewhere else, phew! I was awake again at this point, nah, not gonna get any shut-eye tonight Norm I thought.

An large indigenous guy strolled up out of nowhere to Tom and I, Tom was on the grass opposite me.

“Got $2?” he said

Tom and I replied “No Mate” He continued to walk on towards Howard who was lying on a bench further down.

He asked Howard the same question and got the same answer, he then walked back up towards us and got on to the grass by Tom and lay down.

Howard came back up towards us, Tom got up, I got up and we were back on our feet again, the indigenous guy lay there sleeping, he also seemed inebriated so we left him there to sleep it off.

We started to head up George Street and we were nearly at Charlotte Street when Howard checked his pockets, he couldn’t find his phone, it was his work phone too. Howard ran back to the benches at the park that we were on, luckily the phone had slipped out of his pocket and on to the bench, and it was still there! Howard rejoined us, and we headed down Charlotte Street and back round to the Mall.

We made another loop of the Mall and some more benches had been taken up, again it looked like some elderly people, both male and females occupied the spaces.

As we walked around a voice from a doorway said “Got $2?” we all looked towards the doorway and saw the same indigenous man that had approached us on Queens Park, he recognised us and went into the doorway, it looked like someone else was on the floor with him. I smiled at Howard and Tom “Who is he? Speedy Gonsalez” I said, we all let out a tired chuckle, he did move quickly though!

Sleep deprivation began to take its toll on me, as my concentration lacked and I found myself on a number of occasions asking the guys to repeat themselves when they spoke often asking them to repeat a few times in a row.

Walking around we chatted about where to next, Southbank became the consensus and we headed back up past the casino and onto Victoria bridge, it was now after 2am at this point, we continued down past the performing arts centre, the wheel of Brisbane and onto the Arbour past the ABC and we stopped at South Bank Plaza.

There we found some unusual angled shaped areas covered in synthetic grass, Tom lay back on one and pretty much like he was hit with a tranquilliser dart, he was out. Howard and I laid back, the synthetic grass was rough and annoying, so it was not for me or Howard we sat and chatted. Every few minutes a security car would come by, it would almost pause to a stop when he came to us then he would move on, it became an almost 5 minute cycle he would come back round again. Tom woke up and sat up “I’m so sorry guys” he said “Don’t worry about it mate” we said. The next tranquilliser dart hit him and he was now out again this time sleeping on his front, it was very funny.

We tried these angled shaped areas to sleep on

It was around 4am’ish when Tom stirred, woke up, again apologetic, people starting their early morning exercise routines emerged and construction workers arrived, birds started singing etc. more noise I thought, we had not spotted anyone else who was over here on Southbank who was homeless other than us, I suspect the constant appearance by the security guy in his car would have something to do with it.

I hadn’t seen the beach area for sometime in Southbank, the renovated version looked beautiful as we explored the various zones. At around 4.30am we stumbled across the Flowstate Jem otherwise know as The Dome. The Dome is a copper like structure with various hammock like areas we all dived on and claimed one each, Tom volunteered to take the first watch, Tom, dart, goodnight Tom! I closed my eyes, this was comfy, I began to drift, I then heard a kind of high pressure air sound, alert I opened my eyes and looked around, a number of sprinklers jumped to life, great I thought, some of the spray headed our way. We all got up off the hammocks. Ironically the sprinklers were like an early warning signal, the sky opened and it started to rain, we made our way to the nearest area for shelter which was a toilet — yep, it had to be closed. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait to long before it opened.

The Dome and the hammocks with sprinklers

Blame it on the rain

Once we had all been to the toilet, we played cat and mouse with the rain as we went from sheltered area to sheltered area every time the rain subsided slightly. We finally made it back over Victoria bridge and as we passed the Treasury Casino, I noticed all the people that were there earlier, were no longer there, it was almost as if they had been washed away, not sure where they actually went, I could see no sign of them.

The rain persisted, I had originally wanted to finish the immersion with us set-up on one of the main roads either being George or Adelaide Streets as everyone would be on their way to work, I would be sat with a sign saying “If you can see me, say hello” I wanted to see how invisible I really would be. The rain put an end to that, it was around 6.30am by now and we made our way back to the building on Ann Street we set off from over 12 hours earlier. We got back set our things down, the clock reached 7am and we headed over the road to Santa Moniker Espresso for a coffee.

We decompressed over coffee discussing the nights events, I arranged with Luke to re-convene at 9am for the video shoot. We travelled to Eight Mile Plains where Luke expertly guided us through the process, by that point I had been awake for approximately 26 hours, Howard was at around 28 hours, I think I just rambled an awful lot, can’t wait to see how it turns out!

We finished up the video, Luke mentioned that we all probably needed a shower, he was being polite, I think we smelt pretty bad! Sorry about that Luke.

That was the last formal piece completed, we walked back to the cars, we said our goodbyes to Howard, thanked him for joining me on the experience. I took Tom back home, he was going on a cruise a few days later, I thanked him for joining me and wished him a great holiday.

I pulled off and drove away from Tom’s place, I turned the stereo down, I needed to concentrate on the drive back. I was tired, what a night, a brutal night, I’ll be honest I felt guilty on the drive back, I was going back to a home and I was going back to a bed.

In Australia over 8,000 vulnerable people sleep rough every night, this means sleeping on the pavement, on benches, under bridges and anywhere that is accessible.

Beddown hopes to help our vulnerable by providing a safe, secure and comfortable place to sleep and a bed to sleep in, we do this by activating and repurposing under-utilised spaces in to pop-up accommodation.

Everyone deserves a bed to sleep in. — Norm McGillivray

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