“I’m Like a Bat”:The Rough Sleepers’ Marginalized Life

1st June 2015, By Chang Qiu

With a considerable population of homeless, Australia has taken increasing measures for humanity help in recent years, but the lack of legislation might still remain some negative situations unchanged. 

Approximately on 6.30 p.m. 10 May, 2015, Choy lazily walked to the corner of Market City building near Chinatown at the Sydney CBD, with a huge black bag on his back. In a grey, loosing sport coat, this 32 year-old homeless man jumped into my sight when he was getting through the crossing road without a glance of the red traffic light. He did not begin to trot quickly until a taxi driver braked suddenly and pressed the horn several meters away behind him.

Late for nearly 1 hour than expectation, this homeless man seemed to be fairly surprised by my waiting in front of him. “You really here.” Choy said, with his fist on mouth to cough. He became relaxed to some extent, after I show him $ 20 of the “interview fee” that he initially asked for the last day. He grabbed the money from my hand fast, and added: “I don’t know why do I have to talk.”

Born in Tasmania, Choy said he moved to Sydney around 9 years ago. According to his own statement, his healthy condition resulted the extra difficulty of job-hunting.

“Always Coughing. It’s been years.”

“I came here alone. Dad moved out. He wanted to get some money maybe.” Choy said.

As the probably youngest boy in his family, Choy was forced to separate with his family in the early years, due to the collapsed domestic relationship.

“Family is annoying. I don’t like the older ones.” Impatiently, he scratched his head with fingers from outside of the cap and was obviously feeling uncomfortable with strangers’ following. He used his slit vision from eyes to look for the camera frequently, firmly refusing: “No. But sorry.” For most of the questions, he chose to ignore with numb face expressions and meanwhile, keeping searching for places under roof.

“I got it from a bin near central park.” After looking around the people passing by along the pedestrian, Choy dropped his “new” bag down near the door of a bank, took a carpet out from the bag and sit down onto it. Accompanied with constant coughing, he put a board with begging requests and a card with Mother’s Day celebration by the side of the carpet, in order to raise people’s attention.


Choy’s place for begging. Photograph: Chang Qiu. 16 May 2015. Chinatown, Sydney.

“I sleep outside in night to collect more money. Sounds I am like a bat. ”

“I need help.” Said Choy.

Without a cell phone for contact, the only method for Choy to make dialogues is chatting with strangers occasionally or expressing gratitude for people’s almsgiving. If passer-by throw coins into his cap on the ground, Choy would say “Thanks” in response, while keeping his eyes on the food carried by them.

“I just have some coins right in my pocket so it is not a bad thing to help. These homeless are in bad living condition after all.” Said John Phillip Mills, a local student from UTS.

“It is very common to see those homeless people around here, because the CBD, including Chinatown … is central locations in the city”. Restaurant boss Leslie Chen who has been running his business for 5 years in Chinatown recalled that people sleeping rough has been a normal phenomenon in Sydney since he immigrated here in the early years. “There are lots of people walking through CBD everyday. The poor are begging for money or food, or it’s hard to support their life, because they don’t have a job.”

“Some of them could be illegal residents.” The restaurant boss guesses.

However, many people are trapped in the similar living situation to Choy’s. According to the latest census investigation result released in 2011 by Australian Bureau of Statistics, “the homeless population in Australia was 105,000, with 42 homeless people per every 10,000 in NSW”. Homelessness Australia claimed that around 25 percent of the homeless population consists of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, while 30 percent are from overseas. The population aged between 19 and 32 accounts for 33 percent.

Apart from Chinatown, the Sydney rangers working at the Central Station can find people sleeping rough in the corridors gradually after 6 p.m. everyday. An anonymous staff said the train station has become an ideal shelter for those homeless people. “We should not drive them away as long as they don’t do criminals.”


Facing the camera, the off-street sleeper at Central Station covered his head with carpet. Photograph: Chang Qiu. 23 May 2015. Central Station, Sydney.

In order to lift the homeless’ embarrassing living conditions, some of Australian authorities have been working on track. Because of the rough sleepers’ deliberate firing and unlegislated camping at Wentworth Park in 2014, the government organization City of Sydney now claims that there are strategies including increasing housing support and employment opportunities, implemented to manage the regional image.

“Homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution.” The City now also practice the long- term Brokerage Program with charity supports, helping people to exist or avoid homelessness, according to the official website.


A middle-aged homeless man is sleeping near the entrance of a bank. Photograph: Chang Qiu. 19 May 2015. George Street, Sydney.

Charity organization is another branch for homeless care, and the teenager population is one of the main focuses. “Most young people require more than one attempt to end the cycle of homelessness.” Youth Off The Streets is operating the Inner West Youth Homeless Services regarding to off-street teenagers’ mental health care and food donations. This organization has received the support from celebrities so far.

“42 per cent of Australia’s homeless population is under the age of 25.” Among the factors contributing to homelessness, inharmonious family is a common issue. In April15, 2015 the ABC news reported that The National Youth Coalition for Housing has found many young people are escaping violence and abuse occurred within families.

Nevertheless, the government’s financial backup seems not optimistic. The statistics from Homelessness Australia shows that the government needs to establish a program on affordable housing expansion with over 20,000 fund delivers.

Although the non-profit communities around Australia have been making efforts to improve the rough sleepers’ living situations, a more powerful economical support from the government is still demanded by the public. “The current shortage of affordable and available rental homes is continuing to make getting out of homelessness more difficult for people.” According to the latest fact sheet from Homelessness Australia.

Homeless people represented by Choy are isolated from social lives. They do not even have a phone, and is marginalized by the mass because their limited contributions to the society. Living like a bat, most of them cannot be found during daytime and are frequently noticed begging at night.

Choy left his place at 8.10 pm with the coins in cap ,then came back with a burger around 9.30 pm, decided to move to the Central Station. He thought the wide space there with stone-made wall is more confortable to stay over.

“Step away, please.” Choy said, packed his stuff into backpack and left in a hurry.



One thought on ““I’m Like a Bat”:The Rough Sleepers’ Marginalized Life

  1. You have done a good job. A special issue on the homeless in Australian society was demonstrated in your feature story. To start with, you chose an angle from the insight of a homeless man. That is interesting and attractive. The interviewees varied from the homeless to the restaurant boss. You did a comprehensive research in advance and embedded photographs, video and hyperlinks in the story. I was inspired by your dramatic narratives at the beginning of the story, which implied the diversity of narratives in online journalism. Details in the feature story made the story more infectious and appealing.


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