Club Useless

Last night when I got home, I wasn't able to use the elevator as a woman had passed out, falling and blocking the lift doorway. One of my neighbours was looking after her until the ambulance arrived. She also suggested, with a knowing nod of her head towards the street, the woman was one of the "those" people. I knew what people she meant, the people I have come to know as "Club Useless".

Club Useless consists of about a bunch of people from the local commission housing who like to drink and generally abuse themselves on the streets around where Fox and I live.

I live one block from Smith Street, the main drag of Collingwood which, it seems, has always been notorious for druggies, drunks and "the derelict". While the Council has been trying to "clean up" the area, it's a consistent problem that does bring a lot of "local colour" to the area. I don't mind that they're in our neighbourhood, they have to be somewhere, right? There are a raft of problems in the Big City, including homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness. I don't think the Council needs to "clean up" Collingwood necessarily - sweeping problems out of sight never solves much of anything.

I also understand that there are some who thinks Club Useless poses a threat to personal safety, and they do have their moments - public buildings and plate-glass windows are never safe when things get crazy. When they're on the booze, which is the majority of the time, it seems to be managable; but when someone scores some paint or glue and the unpredictable behaviour that particular type of substance abuse carries with it I start to get nervous.

This "local colour" isn't appreciated by everybody though, especially as this once textile factory suburb is becoming a popular residential area, with apartments filling up empty warehouses and selling for upper-end inner-city prices. Do you really want to pay AU$550,000 for your apartment in an area where it's not that unusual to get off the tram on the way home from work and see a drunk man throwing his teenage daughter through the glass door of the Panama Dining Room? Probably not.

Club Useless is a soap opera of abuse, violence, intimidation and, at times, just general grossness. It's not unusual to have to weave past swaying clusters of arguing drunks, step over jagged broken beer bottles, or find foil packs of medication lost in the street.

I certainly feel I need to have my wits about me some nights when they're particularly animated. Sometimes it's just a long drunken conversation outside the chemist about the origin of faded old tattoos, other nights it's punch-ups, plate-glass surfing, screaming matches, cops arresting, dogs barking. There are fights because of love triangles, spurned lovers, shared lovers, stolen booze, domestic arguments, jealous rages; there is also guitars, and singing, and gut busting laughter and the smell of BBQ sausages (various volunteers deliver food and support).

The woman who collapsed in the elevator doorway last night comes to our building fairly regularly - I think she has family on our floor - she smells bad, but not of booze - just of dirt and age and illness. She often seems vague and talks a lot about how the lift makes her dizzy and how she doesn't like taking it, fearing she'll be trapped inside if it breaks down - I've travelled in it a few times with her, and she gets quite nervous. I don't know how she is today, the paramedics took her away to hospital last night. Poor old duck.

There but by the grace of God and all that.