Collingwood’s Smith Street used to be a drug dealing hub in the late 90s. There was a time when it was impossible to walk down the street without being asked if you were chasing. I dont know what happened to the dealers but since then Smith Street has become nearly as gentrified as Brunswick Street. Its southern end is nearly side by side cafes, bars and restaurants and weekend nights have the same well-dressed people from the suburbs trawling one bar after the other.
Nonetheless, one thing about Smith Street hasnt changed. The large housing commission flats that border it on the east and west and a particular corner close to the Safeway supermarket (which has a liquor outlet) where there are a couple of picnic tables on either side of the street and a public toilet. It’s a good spot to hang at and watch life go by. Most sunny days I’ve rode past, I’ve seen people from the commission flats hanging around, drinking beers, taking in the sun. I’ve done the same myself as there’s a great vietnamese bakery not far down the road.
I’ve never seen much activity there during the night until last Tuesday when I was walking by a group of people clustering around one of the tables. A St Vincent De Paul van pulled up, the driver got out and was greeted and a couple of people helped him pull out boxes of food onto the tables, chatting with him and each other. It looked like a regular event, a good and anticipated one. Everybody seemed relaxed and happy as they started to bite into their food. One passed napkins and plastic cutlery around.
It struck me then that i’d only rarely seen people being fed before not out in the streets. And that it was remarkably natural for grown adults to be accepting food that they had done nothing to earn, that the fact that they were hungry was a good enough reason and that there was in this act of receiving an undeniable and unforced dignity.