In shadow of booming CBD, this couple lives in poverty
AARON Burke sits back in a torn camper chair, his feet hidden amidst a pile of blankets spilled over from a shopping trolley holding everything he owns.
Leaning forward slightly, tattooed arms resting on his knees, his roughly bearded face takes on a defeated expression as he considers his situation.
It's early Tuesday morning at Clewley Park and the 34-year-old is waiting for his partner Michelle Sharpe, 43, to come back to their camp.
He's keeping watch on his worldly possessions, an untidy pile of blankets and clothes stored in the corner of the amenities block that fronts Water St, barely sheltered by two roughly hung tarpaulins.
"I got beaten up yesterday," Mr Burke tells The Chronicle.
"My partner, she got hit a couple of times before I stepped in."
His left arm bears two long scratches, sustained when he was struck with a stake pulled from the Toowoomba Regional Council garden.
Mr Burke is homeless, unwashed and downtrodden.
He and Ms Sharpe are two of the 16 people who sleep in Clewley Park every night, huddled together under the shelters or bridges, in the shadow of the booming Toowoomba CBD.
They've been there for two months, relying on free food vans three times a week and other deliveries from strangers.
"It's not the best," Mr Burke says.
"Least it's something over our head but we don't sleep very much.
"We sort of stay here because we've got free food that comes down three times a week but apart from that ..."
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Up until Monday, Mr Burke had regular access to the showers and toilet facilities the council installed in Clewley Park in collaboration with homelessness agencies to give people access to basic services.
That's now been wound back and available only under supervision.
"We've got nowhere to go," he said.
"Even the police said they're not going to move us on because we're just going to go to another park.
"They're trying to get the council now to kick in and give the agencies more power to do something."
Police have also referred Mr Burke and others to welfare agencies but they're yet to catch a break.
Being homeless, Mr Burke said he was ineligible for help from a number of agencies and had spoken with several in the past two months.
"The agencies need to be able to help," he said.
He regularly misses Centrelink appointments because he has to mind his belongings and, should a job become available and someone give him a chance, he's unlikely to hold it down.
"I've been doing removals for 10 years," he said.
"Even if I got a job right now, there's no way I could hold a job down at the moment.
"Just trying to get our foot in the door but every time I think we're getting there, it just gets slammed on us, every time.
"What's the point of being referred on if there's nothing they can do?"
Mr Burke can get into crisis accommodation but he would be forced to leave Ms Sharpe - something he won't consider.
Toowoomba Regional Council environment and community services general manager Nick Hauser said Clewley Park was an ongoing issue.
"Therefore council has taken a decision to temporarily close the public toilet facilities as a last resort to dissuade the use of the facility as a form of accommodation which is not what it is designed for," he said.
"The facility has been having 200 people access the facility every month and Ozcare, Fishes and Loaves and Rosies have been running programs which will continue as normal." The park was built in conjunction with homelessness services."
- 4000 meals cooked and served by Base Services since January 1
- 31 swags distributed
- 144 hygiene packs given out
- 214 homeless hampers delivered
- 193 clients accessed health, legal, financial, personal care
- Base Services