Matte Dunn is not drug addicted, not an alcoholic, not a gambler and has no diagnosed mental illness. But he is homeless.  This is 12 hours in his life. 

Matte Dunn is not drug addicted, not an alcoholic, not a gambler and has no diagnosed mental illness. But he is homeless.

This is 12 hours in his life. 

7:20pm

7:20pm

Matte is finishing up his work as InfoGuy, a job he created for himself about eight years ago when he started with a milk crate at Flinders Street station, giving directions to late night revellers looking to catch the last train home.

Now, he says, on a good week he can make $200-$300 from tips from shoppers at Melbourne Central, where management lets him set up his booth.

In 2008, then prime minister Kevin Rudd's 2020 Summit made Matte think about where his life was going.

He devised an eight-year plan to get out of homelessness and InfoGuy was a big part of it.

7:39pm

7:39pm

A lone pair of seagulls and a glimpse of city skyline above Matte's InfoGuy booth. 

Matte doesn't necessarily consider himself poverty-stricken.

What he lacks more than anything else, he says, is relationships — "being able to talk to someone who doesn't get paid for talking to you".

He says one thing people don't understand about homelessness is the intense loneliness.

8:10pm

8:10pm

Healthy eating is something Matte prioritises.

He says he can afford to spend money on proper food because he doesn't pay rent.

Matte graduated from La Trobe University last year with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in linguistics.

He says he had to push himself to complete the course while struggling with homelessness.

"Every day I just said, 'I've got to do this. There is just no other way out'."

8:24pm

8:24pm

Matte drops past his storage cage in a parking garage in the CBD to collect his clothes to take for washing in Box Hill.

Inside the cage, sitting alongside his degree, is an owl trophy he won in a Scrabble tournament in Queensland in 2006 — another of his talents.

Matte pays about $40 a month to have access to this windowless box, barely the size of a sofa.

But the tiny space is one of the few places where Matte can shut a door on the world and feel relatively safe.

He's been offered crisis and transitional housing multiple times, but has always turned it down. He feels he's safer on his own than sharing with others who he fears may be using drugs or are potentially violent.

10:15pm

10:15pm

Matte's path takes him beneath the cranes and the rapidly multiplying skyscrapers of Box Hill, an expanding suburb in Melbourne's east, en route to his squat.

According to City of Melbourne figures, numbers of people sleeping rough in Melbourne have gone up 74 per cent in the past two years.

Anecdotal evidence from the sector suggests the homeless demographic is changing: increasingly drugs and mental illness are not the sole drivers. Instead, the sheer unaffordability of housing is pushing people onto the street. 

10:27pm

10:27pm

Matte crawls inside his squat, a small shed behind an abandoned house emblazoned in spray paint with the words DANGER, KEEP OUT.

Picking his way through the darkness, Matte remarks on the overgrown garden.

He says he used to keep the place neat, hiring a lawnmower to cut the grass.

Matte comes here when he needs to get uninterrupted rest.

"I can sleep for 16 hours at a time, it's perfect," he says.

But on this night, though, he feels uneasy.

Matte has the sense that someone has been here, though nothing appears to have been taken.

He suspects his "Bat Cave" could be on borrowed time.

It's a familiar feeling: when you're homeless, everything is uncertain, there's the sense that every single thing you have can be taken away in the blink of an eye. 

10:36pm

10:36pm

Inside his squat, Matte takes the time to vote in the Melbourne City Council elections, considering the platforms of the various candidates.

He looks for someone with decent policies on homelessness and avoids candidates who oppose development.

11:40pm

11:40pm

Doing the washing, Matte says, is a "major event" that takes planning and hours of dedicated time.

"Other people have all this at home, on their doorstep: a shower, a laundry, a kitchen. My doorstep is spread over 15 kilometres," he says.

Matte passes the time reading an article about Academy Award-nominated films on his phone as he waits for his washing to tumble dry.

By his wrist is his asthma puffer — Matte used to receive disability benefits on account of his bad lungs, but was recently deemed fit for employment and told he was no longer eligible.

12:01am

12:01am

Matte has a gym membership solely to use the bathroom facilities.

He says it works out to about a dollar a day, which he says is worth it.

He waits until the gym is mostly empty to slip in and out.

Matte prefers not to use the showers at drop-in centres, designed for the homeless, because of safety concerns.

3:39am

3:39am

Matte is watching YouTube and playing Scrabble as he eats a packet of licorice allsorts.

The only other people in the internet cafe are a couple of 20-somethings, gaming online and exclaiming loudly in Mandarin.

By the end of the night Matte is listening to Split Enz.

"Six Months in a Leaky Boat, my anthem for this year," he explains.

4:41am

4:41am

Matte heads for the railway station, clutching a paper cup of 7-Eleven coffee.

On this night, the temperature plummeted to 5 degrees Celsius and just before dawn it feels coldest.

On the topic of love, Matte says he would like to have a partner, but sometimes feels "that ship has sailed".

He says he's been with people from all walks of life, from dating a woman who lived in a mansion — which he found a bit "awkward", he laughs — to relationships where he was the more stable one.

5:00am

5:00am

While others loiter on the steps at Flinders Street Station, Matte keeps to himself.

He finds his community more with the city's shopkeepers and shift workers than among the homeless population.

6:12am

6:12am

Matte picks the longest railway lines and rides them out and back in order to buy some time to rest without attracting attention for sleeping in public.

"Here I'm just a guy sleeping on a train," he says.

Years ago he came up with a similar approach for sleeping in parks, buying a banana lounge so he could look like anyone else enjoying a snooze in the sun.

6:48am

6:48am

Matte blends in with bleary-eyed commuters on their way to the CBD.

But while they're beginning a new day, Matte is just reaching the end of his, having snatched less than an hour of sleep during his constant shifting around the city.

He thinks he'll probably go back to "the office" and get some rest before taking up his post as InfoGuy.

"I get four or five hours most nights, but I can get by on two," he says.

"As long as I've managed to shut my eyes and get that sensation of sleep."

POSTSCRIPT

Now in his 40s, Matte believes he's on the verge of transitioning out of homelessness.

He's far happier than he's ever been, and has a greater sense of purpose — something he attributes to getting an education and to the money he's been able to earn through what he calls his microbusiness.

He says he's been religiously saving $200 a fortnight, depositing the money into a bank account.

He has a plane ticket booked to Thailand, where he plans to go door-to-door offering his services as an English teacher.

"I've put myself in a position where I am employable," he says, almost sounding surprised at his own accomplishment.

And, in Asia, he dares to hope he might even be able to afford a place of his own.