‘Show some compassion’ for homeless man
A HOMELESS man with a debilitating bladder condition has been fined more than $1200 for sleeping near what he believes to be the only safe public toilet in the Burleigh area.
Despite showing Gold Coast City Council officers a medical certificate from his doctor explaining his dire situation, 66-year-old Graeme Aitken - who sleeps with his dog in a van - is woken regularly in the middle of the night and told to move on.
Fined twice already for illegal camping, a tearful Mr Aitken told the Bulletin yesterday he had nowhere else to go.
He said that last Saturday a council officer, acting on complaints from residents, turned up at his van with a police officer and spoke to him, threatening to lock the toilet block in the beachfront park at the end of Second Ave of a night, preventing him from accessing it.
Mr Aitken said he showed the council worker and the police officer a note from his doctor which explained his need to be close to a public toilet.
"I'd be grateful if he could be shown some compassion from the local council," the medical certificate read.
But Mr Aitken said yesterday little care was shown.
"There is just no compassion at all, the way the council worker treated me the other day - she just basically said we don't care," Mr Aitken said.
"She said if you're going to keep sitting here we are going to lock the toilets.
"She kept asking me why I pick this toilet. I say it is well lit (and) there are houses around if I get into trouble. The others are all dark, overgrown. I just want to feel safe."
For more than three years Mr Aitken has been living in his van with his dog Duke.
Eating just a few pieces of toast a day and a single hot meal every other, Mr Aitken has survived off his small pension.
His life went into a spiral when his partnership in a maintenance business fell apart. He said he lost his savings and began living in his vehicle.
Having previously been on the social housing waiting list he said he eventually gave up after waiting over a year.
As Bulletin reports earlier this week showed, his situation is not unique, with an increasing number of seniors turning to living on the streets after battling rising costs of living, low pension allowances, and a lack of affordable and social housing.
Mr Aitken said he had moved the van regularly to avoid fines from council.
But as his health deteriorated at the start of this year, it became near impossible to leave the toilet block for more than an hour, he said.
"I used to sleep over at the dog park in Burleigh Street, to go to the toilet against a tree but the pain was agony," Mr Aitken said.
"It was two in the morning and I am rolling around on the ground in a bloody dog park in pure pain because I couldn't get to a toilet. I had to just lie there until the pain eased.
"I tried sleeping in West Burleigh, but it is a two or three-minute drive to get to the bathroom and I have to be there in seconds.
"I would have to drive every hour and it was exhausting."
While awaiting a diagnosis from a specialist, he risks further fines while sleeping close to the toilet block.
"I am not asking for much," Mr Aitken said.
"The locals seem to have an issue with me being here but I am not here to hurt anyone.
"I just want to be able to use the toilet and to be left alone.
"They got what they paid for, they got their view, what else do they want?"
Mr Aitken said he has just two friends - dog Duke and a caring resident, Kim Dale-Taylor, who has been helping him with meals and by washing Duke.
She said she was shocked by the council officer's reaction.
"It makes Graeme feel full-blown anxiety, he is exhausted and always on tenterhooks. "Someone is always at him - he can't just be," Ms Dale-Taylor said.
A city council spokeswoman said they had received a significant number of complaints about illegal camping along the Esplanade at Burleigh and had been "unable to resolve this situation".
"These complaints include specific mention of the case to which you refer," the spokeswoman said.
She said the council always tried to connect people experiencing homelessness with relevant service providers to find assistance.