The following post is based on copy supplied by someone who has run a business on Smith St since 1994. I sought permission to publish it because it provides a much needed counterpoint to the bleeding heart leftie view that street drinkers are special citizens who are above the law and who cannot be held accountable for their actions. I believe the law should apply equally to everyone. For a comprehensive background to the drinking on Smith St issue, see this video produced by YarraReporter.
From 1988 until mid 2002 the area became a heroin market. This is due to its strategic position. It services the Bundoora tram link and is in convenient proximity to the Fitzroy and Collingwood public housing estates. After much unnecessary work the traders and residents of the area were able to relocate much of this market to Victoria St in Richmond, but some of it remained.
The area abounding the Safeway supermarket became a sign post for people who needed to score. The signposts were hardened criminals who directed the trade with the support of a bottle of port. Their menacing manner and intimidating behaviour allowed them to control the public space. We no longer saw old men and women in the street and families deserted our shopping strip.
During this time I became involved with The City of Yarra and other stake holders in discussions regarding the abuse of alcohol. I maintained my position that the area was a commercial precinct and should be made safe for our community to utilise as such.
Unfortunately the health lobby group, who are very influential in Yarra, identified the issue as an indigenous issue and refused to acknowledge the connection between alcohol abuse and criminality – in particular a trade in hard drugs.
These discussions led to identifying the need for an outreach worker to deal with the alcohol issues that are still prevalent within the indigenous community. Although funding was approved the position never eventuated.
About two years later, after the City of Yarra was approached by the office of the Small Business Commissioner, the council set up the Street Peoples Committee. Traders were represented at this committee but found they were overwhelmed by the health lobby who are paid to attend these talk fests whilst the people representing the interests of the shopping precinct were not.
Since the council was not serious about improving the situation the people became disillusioned by the futility of the exercise. From the discussions carried out by the Street Peoples Committee, alcohol abuse within the indigenous community was identified as a serious problem that our community needed to address. The committee proposed more support for alcohol rehabilitation, a sobriety bus and the establishment of an Indigenous, Community Cultural Centre.
After two more years of lobbying, the local state member of parliament agreed to the funding of a cultural centre on the proviso that The City of Yarra introduce a drinking ban on alcohol in public spaces. Despite the Minister’s request, the City of Yarra and Aboriginal Services Victoria did not have a written business plan for the Cultural Centre.
The City of Yarra introduced a ban on public drinking 24/7 on 1 December 2009. Since the ban the police have attended on three occasions instead of every day, the ambulance has been here once instead of three times a week, I see old men and women occupying the public areas, I see people sitting down having their lunches in peace and quiet on benches that were occupied by violent drunks, I see families with children.
I am no longer having violent abuse hurled at me, my laneway does not smell like a third world toilet and my staff feel safe at work. I no longer see groups of criminals consorting on the street and I have not seen a used syringe for at least six months.
It has taken ten years to achieve this position of normality in Smith street at a terrible cost to our community (at least half of the drinkers who occupied the area are dead). During this time many small businesses have gone bankrupt and left the area. Police time and effort, which could be better utilised in addressing serious criminal activity, was wasted on managing antisocial behaviour instead of stamping it out.
Why would any sane person want to reintroduce public drinking to Smith St? Do they have a vested interest in perpetuating criminality?