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Safe injecting room in CBD makes sense for city’s recovery

During the worst of the pandemic, the city’s homeless population were offered hotel rooms to protect them from COVID. But since that program ended, hundreds of rough sleepers (many of whom have drug issues) are back out on the streets. In fact, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.

A safe injecting service would ensure that a city recovery also means supporting vulnerable people who often see drugs as the only answer. It would also connect them into a range of services that could include housing, dental care, mental health services and drug treatment.

During the worst of the pandemic, the city’s homeless population were offered hotel rooms to protect them from COVID.

During the worst of the pandemic, the city’s homeless population were offered hotel rooms to protect them from COVID.Credit:Paul Jeffers

These are people who usually refuse to engage with health and other support services. If done well, a supervised injecting service in the city will create an environment where they will feel comfortable accessing help.

What this means is that the facility won’t just save lives, but has every chance of improving them as well.

I’m told the state government is yet to finalise the site, but there’s been mounting speculation that the injecting room will be situated in the area around Flinders Street and Elizabeth Street.

After 20 years working in the city, I have seen firsthand 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.

Inside North Richmond's safe injecting room.

Inside North Richmond’s safe injecting room.

While it might be tempting to push for an injecting service to be located in a hospital or another place far away from businesses and residents, the fact is an injecting room has to be close to areas of drug harm because we know people who use drugs do so within minutes of purchasing them.

Residents and businesses in that area acknowledge the precinct has a problem with drugs, but are fearful that an injecting room will make things worse. These feelings are legitimate, but we have the knowledge gained from North Richmond, along with evidence from overseas and Sydney’s injecting room, that supervised injecting centres, if implemented well, can actually reduce overdoses and public injecting.

The simple fact is, drug use has been rife in that part of the city for at least two decades – and it’s getting worse. People are dying. Businesses and residents are at their wits end.

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An injecting space is a proactive, innovative response to a problem that was there for 20 years and hasn’t been addressed.

Wouldn’t it be great if, as part of the city’s recovery, we finally dealt with it?

Major Brendan Nottle leads the Salvation Army’s Melbourne Project 614, which seeks out and helps those living on society’s fringes. @brendannottle

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