Pubdate: Mon, 21 Sep 1998
Date: 09/21/1998
Source: The Age (Australia)
Author: Christine Allison
Note: Christine Allison is manager of Bedford Street Outreach Services

Regarding "Traders May Act over Heroin" by Andrea Carson (The Age,
16/9). Recent suggestions that the Smith Street Traders Network may
consider hiring private security guards to curb illicit drug use and
improve the image of Smith Street fails to recognise the breadth of
the problem of which drugs are a symptom.

Drug use and drug-related crime are evidence of a pattern of
disadvantage, impacting on people's ability to have access to, and
maintain decent, affordable and stable housing as well as other
essential services and support systems. Drug use and the attendant
problems of poor health, premature frailty and aging, inadequate and
unstable housing, and social alienation will not be remedied by such

Bedford Street Outreach Services (BSOS) has been working with homeless
people in Collingwood and the surrounding area since 1990. Drug use is
common among BSOS clients, as are experiences of being unable to gain
access to basic services including housing, food, and social and
community supports.

While homeless people are often criticised for making areas appear
unsafe or unappealing, their own safety is constantly in jeopardy, and
their health at risk. Further alienating people who are homeless, or
who use illegal drugs by moving them into other areas will only serve
to make it more difficult for them to access the services and supports
they need.

BSOS is also concerned that homeless people, and others who maybe seen
as "undesirable", will be shepherded out of the Smith Street area by
private security firms.  By using private firms for policing, The
Smith Street Traders Network is inviting people to exercise their
intolerance under the guise of "cleaning up" the area.

The response of the network to the problem of drugs is premised on a
desire for it to go elsewhere rather than any real commitment to
tackling the problem itself. Alienating people from support services,
and potentially placing their housing and community connections at
risk will act merely to undermine their chances of breaking the cycle
of poverty and disadvantage.

Drugs will not "go away" as a problem. BSOS advocates for strategies
which encourage and support safe drug use, and services which
recognise that people who use drugs are also entitled to be safe, to
have secure housing and access to essential services. Private security
guards and other "vigilante" approaches, will limit everyone's safety
and freedom, and make Smith Streey not only unappealing, but
potentially unsafe for everybody.

CHRISTINE ALLISON manager Bedford Street Outreach Services