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Govt centres to give street drinkers a guzzle

Sydney’s problem drinkers could be herded off the streets in a joint move by Housing NSW and the City of Sydney to provide venues for alcoholics to nurse their addiction reports Angus Thompson in City News of 16 April 2009.

The proposed ‘wet centres’ are being toted as a more ‘realistic’ option at a time when the City is considering imposing almost 50 per cent more alcohol-free zones.

City Councillor Irene Doutney, who pushed for the initiative, says the ‘wet centres’ would provide a safe place for drinkers, rather than the park areas around Waterloo and Redfern they usually prefer.

“[The drinkers] don’t live very long because their health is so compromised. It’s not a rehabilitation centre, it’s not moralistic, it’s realistic,” she said.

“It’s a compassionate and humane way where they can drink, seek services and make their life more bearable and healthy.

“At the moment they drink in alcohol-free zones and they break glass and people get freaked out. Residents are angry and scared.”

The centres would provide showers, food, nurses and social workers to monitor their needs, according to Cr Doutney.

However, some residents and workers in the area have expressed doubt.

“It should not be done because it is an eyesore. It would be better to get them off the street to do something else more social such getting involved in the community rather than alcohol abuse all day,” said Carina Murphy, who works opposite Prince Alfred Park in Surry Hills, a popular place for drinkers.

“They should be integrated into the community so the focus is not on alcohol,” she said.

The proposition received support from Housing NSW representative Megan Hibbett, who said they would look into buying premises for the centre, although a NSW Housing spokesperson said it is a matter for the Community Services Minister, Linda Burney.

“We’ve talked about [wet centres] for years and we could be hard nosed about it and bring in more alcohol-free zones, but that will not stop the drinking. It will drive the drinking elsewhere, like in apartments, but residents around them would complain like they have before,” said Cr Doutney.

City of Sydney is currently considering 23 new alcohol-free areas, suggested by residents and police, in addition to the 50 current alcohol-free areas which are due to expire in July.