Source: Age, The (Australia)
Pubdate: Mon, 21 Sep 1998
Author: Christine Allison


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 tactics.

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

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 Collingwood

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Checked-by: Don Beck