HAMISH* HAS BEEN HOMELESS SINCE HIS MID-TEENS. HE GOT ABOUT $13,000 IN FINES ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT. HE HASN'T HAD ANY FINES IN TWO YEARS..
I've been homeless since my mid-teens, living mainly in the inner city. I've been squatting for ages so I kind of don't feel like part of society anymore. I had a housing woman talk to me about some of the boarding houses, but even guys getting out of prison refuse to stay in those places because of the people they attract. I just don't want to have to deal with that aggravation so squatting provides me with autonomy and safety which I wouldn't get in other types of temporary accommodation.
Public transport obviously is a big a thing for everyone living in the inner city especially for poorer and homeless people. Even just to get on the train and sleep for an hour or two, ride out to Hurstbridge and back. For me, through drug use and mental illness I got worse and worse and soon I had a few fines. They were pretty much all public transport fines. It ended up being about $13,000 dollars worth. The stress and anxiety of the debt was something I kind of felt already, the fines just added to that.
When I first came to Melbourne they still had the tram conductors. I was pretty young then and I worked so I still got tickets but I didn't have money all the time. You would get on the tram and talk to the tram conductor, sometimes they'd let you stay on other times they would kick you off. Taking people out of the system and replacing them with computers and then with people with guns, it means the human element of compassion is missing.
It's a bit upsetting when you are on a tram or train and you find that whenever there is a ticket officer they immediately bee-line their way to you. It does something to your self esteem. The first few times it happens you think nothing of it, but then by the end you are looking for these people. I'm like a dog who has been hit. Once you've had the crap beaten out of you a few times it just becomes 'yes sir', it's kind of sad in a way.
A couple of times people giving the infringements have been nice, but a couple of times it has been demeaning. Once I had an appointment at Centrelink, I got off the train and was approached by four plain clothed officers. They asked me for a ticket, when I didn't have one they took me aside and photographed me for 'local records'. It was a bit weird standing on the platform getting your photo taken.
There is no way I could've dealt with the fines by myself, the only way I did was with the help of workers and a lawyer. The letters kept coming and to deal with them there was lots of writing, it was all a bit much. On clearing the fines the judge took in to account the fact that I haven't had any fines for almost two years. The way I stopped getting fines is that I stopped catching the tram. I have to ride or walk everywhere. I only buy tickets for appointments.
It is beneficial for the community to change the system because with the fines, it's like throwing paper at a fire. I don't know whether it has to do with training but also setting guidelines. If it does become that you can't get on public transport without a ticket, that's going to keep people from getting public transport to their doctors and to their appointments. It puts additional strain on the health system, the legal system and the welfare system.
Getting the fines sorted was like a weight lifted, like going to the dentist and having the pressure released. It's a good feeling. It encourages me to get my stuff a bit more organised and together, start working again.
* Name has been changed