Salvos back Flinders Street safe injecting room amid fierce opposition

Salvation Army leader Brendan Nottle has urged Melbourne to embrace a safe-injecting room on Flinders Street as part of the CBD’s post-COVID-19 recovery, saying drug use had been rife in that part of the city for two decades and was getting worse.

Major Nottle said hundreds of rough sleepers, “many of whom have drug issues” were back on the streets after the end of the government’s program to house them in motels during the worst of the pandemic. “In fact, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said.

The Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle backs a safe-injecting room on Flinders Street. Credit:Justin McManus

The Victorian government is expected to confirm within weeks that the former Yooralla building at 244-248 Flinders Street – which it bought for about $40 million in May – will be the site of a trial of the state’s second injecting room as part of a community health and wellbeing hub.

The prominent location – between Elizabeth and Swanston streets and near the Degraves Street tourist strip – is opposed by the Police Association, the Small Business Australia lobby group and traders and residents who say it will discourage visitors to the already struggling CBD.

Major Nottle said he could understand people in the city saying it was not the right time to open a new safe-injecting service in the CBD, that city traders and residents have been through so much and perhaps this could wait a couple of years.

But he writes in The Age that putting an injecting room in the Flinders Street precinct near Elizabeth Street is the “right call” to ensure a city recovery also means supporting vulnerable people who often see drugs as the only answer.

“After 20 years working in the city, I have seen first hand the high levels of drug use and dealing in this spot. The Metro station works on Swanston Street have exacerbated this, because some activity that used to occur across from St Paul’s church has moved down to Elizabeth Street,” he says.

Former police chief commissioner Ken Lay was appointed to conduct an independent consultation process on a second injecting room, with the former Yooralla building one of several he identified.

But Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said a safe-injecting room in the CBD would be detrimental to the amenity and safety of the community.

“We were contacted by Mr Lay after the purchase of the Yooralla building, where we reaffirmed the concerns we raised with his team in September 2020,” Mr Gatt said.

Melbourne’s second drug injecting room is expected to be located in the area around Flinders Street and Elizabeth Street.Credit:Joe Armao

Small Business Australia executive director Bill Lang called on the government to pay compensation to small businesses and property owners affected by the safe-injecting room.

He said the group told Mr Lay about the economic cost of the injecting room in Richmond on Victoria Street traders, who reported reduced foot traffic and customers.

“The state should pay for the cost of the destruction of the value of businesses,” Mr Lang said.

Asked by The Age whether Police Commissioner Shane Patton supported the 244-248 Flinders Street location, a spokesperson said Victoria Police had not been involved in any process to select a preferred second injecting room site.



“We have been consulted and will continue to work with the state government and local council on the operation of the trial to address and reduce any safety or amenity impacts,” the spokesperson said. “Community safety remains the key priority for Victoria Police.”

CBD resident Jennifer Johnson said it was naive at best to consider a safe-injecting room would be an answer to the problems in the area. “Already, with people and friends I have spoken to, no-one will come into the city if this plan comes to fruition. It is too dangerous now, and will become more so.”

Ratepayers Victoria president Dean Hurlston said injecting rooms belonged in medical precincts. He said he could not support the Flinders Street location, despite the allied health services that would also be provided in the building.

“We will always support residents and businesses’ COVID recovery first and foremost. Councils and government must put the whole community first.”

Ambulance Victoria data between 2015 and 2020 showed the Elizabeth and Flinders Street precinct was an overdose hot spot, with a quarter of all CBD heroin overdoses occurring within 250 metres of that intersection.

Ambulance Employees Australia Victoria secretary Brett Adie said the United Workers Union broadly supported the plan to open a second injecting room, “however our members have raised some concerns around occupational health and safety”.

“The safety of ambulance officers attending overdose patients is a key and constant consideration and, unfortunately, our members are routinely required to attend to patients who have injected drugs which often comes with extra safety and security issues,” Mr Adie said.

A Victorian government spokesperson said a second supervised injecting service would save lives and change lives.

“With around one person a month dying from heroin overdose in the City of Melbourne, there is a real and growing need for a community health and wellbeing hub.”

Most Viewed in Politics

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article