Why are there so many homeless in Melbourne?

Walking along Swanston Street today, I saw something that I’d never thought to see in Melbourne: a homeless mother, daughter and their cat camped on the sidewalk in front of a 7-11. I’ve seen the younger woman and her cat a number of times in the last few weeks. She normally has a post at the corner of Collins and Swanston in front of the Westpac branch, opposite the community kitchen that runs there all week. This was the first time that I’d seen her with an older woman – I’m not sure if she is her parent or not, I probably just want them to be together because that might mean they are less vulnerable together.

In another way, if they are related, I can’t help but see this as a sign that the situation of homelessness in Melbourne has got worse. Families encamped on footpaths is something I associate with India, a country with a per capita income of 5,350 PPP dollars (2013) (ranked 125) as opposed to Australia with a per capita income of 42,450 PPP dollars (2013) (ranked 15).

For a mother, daughter and family pet to be on the streets, a whole host of systemic failures must be occurring in our society. Even if these women have accommodation or shelter (which I hope), the fact that they have chosen to beg as a form of livelihood is a social issue and not something that should be dismissed.

I think that these two are only the most visible tip of a huge social crisis that is occurring under our noses. A couple of weeks ago I saw a young couple asleep together in their sleeping bags on Swanston Street in front of another 7-11 (7-11 never mind its exploitative labor practices must provide a fair amount of safety to and acceptance of the homeless). And it seems to me that every week, the numbers and type of homeless in Melbourne is increasing.

How can this sort of thing be happening in such a wealthy country, in the most “liveable city in the world” with so many empty apartments?