City ‘collar biters’ on shaky ground

By Tony Whitehead

Sydney ‘s homeless are a diverse mix, doing it hard on the streets every day. Despite having protocols as a guide to help people doing it rougher on our streets, they can still face an unsettling existence.

Railway Square has its share of homeless people seeking money.

The square is always busy being near Sydney’s Central Railway Station and the University of Technology Sydney. The flow of students, businesspeople and the general public all makes the area very popular, utilising quality food outlets and with the major bus terminal and general high-rise areas.

Most days homeless people gesture for money from passers-by along George Street and the railway forecourt park areas.

I only recently heard the expression ‘collar biters’, the slang term used by the street people themselves. Some seek refuge in quiet lanes behind buildings through the day or live in the square, others sleep in cars or have insecure accommodation, but most are seeking money for food or other needs.

They can travel from other areas: the unemployed, buskers, Indigenous nomads with dogs, the intoxicated, lost and mentally ill. Some may need superficial or emergency medical help.

Central Railway Station at Railway Square, Sydney 1923. Artwork: William Young/CC/State Library of NSW

Maya from Central Railways Station Office said: “Central Railway Station takes a very compassionate view to the people seeking refuge inside and around the station area and we generally respect people’s privacy, but sometimes we do call the police or an ambulance if we need to.”

Christ Church St Laurence in George Street at Railway Square has been running a shelter for homeless men for many years at the rear of the Cathedral in Pitt Street.

The Cathedral Priest . “We had to shut our doors during the pandemic for a few years,” said Father Ryan Austin-Eames. “But we are trying to open the men’s shelter again soon.”

The church parish has been serving the community from the very beginnings of Sydney and can be seen in many old images of the area. Their doors are always open and welcoming without discrimination and the church has an early morning service even on weekdays.

A Protocol for Homeless People in Public Places, was produced in 2013 by the NSW Government’s Department of Communities and Justice to assist and guide government and non-government organisations, including private business, to interact and engage with people experiencing homelessness so they are treated respectfully, with dignity, and do not face discrimination.

With unsettling economic times contributing to an increase in people forced into homelessness, we may need to give some thought to protocols and legislation as we regularly see these people in our streets each day.

*Surname withheld for privacy.MDRX/

Feature image: Railway Square in Sydney hosts a significant homeless population. Photo: MDRX/CC/Wikimedia

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