WARNING - DISTRESSING CONTENT: A concerned Melbourne mum says her nine-year-old son is regularly confronting people injecting drugs outside the family home.
Charlotte, who withheld her surname, lives in the city’s east with her husband and their son Angus. They are about 1km away from North Richmond’s safe-injecting room.
She told Yahoo News Australia the facility, which opened in 2018, hasn’t stopped people from using outside her house.
“There was a guy passed out in the laneway behind our house during the COVID-19 lockdown,” she said.
“He was just lying there and my son passed him as he was bringing his bike out the back to meet me up front.
“He ran into the house screaming, ‘Mummy, there’s a dead man’.”
She said “it’s a really frightening site”.
Charlotte said she doesn’t know how to explain what’s happening to her boy.
“What am I to do as a parent? He’s seen people in public injecting – what are the words a mother should use?” she said.
“We’ve lived here for 15 years and the safe-injecting room isn’t working. It’s ruining our community and it’s dumping all of Victoria’s drug problems on my doorstep.”
A ‘long queue’ at Richmond safe-injecting room
The concerned mum also filmed two other men who she claims were doing drugs outside her home.
She provided video to Yahoo News Australia of her confronting them.
“You came out here to shoot up? Is that right?” she asks them.
One of the men tells her to “f*** off”.
Charlotte tells them “this isn’t the safe injecting room” and asks why the pair aren’t using it.
He then explains, “because you’ve got to wait in a long queue there”.
Others voice concerns as police offer reassurance
The mum said the video is an example of the failures of the safe-injecting room and she’s not alone in her criticism of it either, with residents complaining of drug-user antics spilling out onto the streets of North Richmond and bringing danger to their previously safe community.
The room was opened in 2018 for a three-year trial.
Yahoo News Australia published examples from concerned citizens 12 months ago, including a woman appearing to inject herself on a park bench and a man another resident claimed was doing drugs in his driveway.
Victoria Police told Yahoo News Australia, after hearing of Charlotte’s concerns, the community is safe.
“Police continue to conduct regular patrols in the East Melbourne area to detect and deter any criminal activity,” a police spokeswoman said.
“These patrols which are conducted across Melbourne and Yarra are regularly supported by specialist units including the Public Order Response Team, Highway Patrol, Bike Patrol, Transit police and PSOs to boost our visibility and provide reassurance to the community.”
The spokeswoman said police “understand it would be confronting to witness incidents of criminal activity or anti-social behaviour”.
She urged anyone concerned to contact Triple-0.
“Police are committed to reducing the harm caused by drugs in the community. The Crime Statistics Agency data indicates we are continuing to apprehend people for both drug trafficking and drug possession,” she said.
Nine people have been arrested in Richmond with a range of offences, including trafficking heroin under Operation Confining which ran from February to May 2020.
Second Melbourne injecting room set to open
A review of the site also found it has saved more than 21 lives with plans to now introduce a second safe-injecting room.
But the state government has acknowledged it has more work to do to improve perceptions of safety issues near the original centre in North Richmond.
Premier Daniel Andrews has accepted every recommendation made by an independent review panel, which has been investigating the injecting room trial under way at North Richmond since mid-2018.
The recommendations include extending the North Richmond trial by another three years and setting up a second safe injecting room in the City of Melbourne.
There were 51 heroin-related deaths in the area between January 2015 and September 2019.
"There is a need for us to do more to save lives and change lives," Mr Andrews said.
He acknowledged he had needed convincing early on that creating an injecting room was a good idea.
But swathes of experts, law enforcement officials, ambulance workers and doctors helped change his mind, along with families who lost loved ones to drug addiction.
"When you hear stories of families that will never again be whole families where there is a loved one missing, that grief, that burden, that tragedy is with those families, every minute of every day - you have to rethink things," he said.
The Department of Health and Human Services said its preferred spot for the new centre is community health organisation cohealth Central Melbourne on Victoria Street, a short walk from the city's Queen Victoria Market.
City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said on Friday evening her council was not consulted about the Victoria Street location of the new injecting room and was seeking an urgent briefing from the government.
"It's critical that a thorough consultation process is undertaken," Ms Capp tweeted.
Consultation will begin with the local community, Victoria Police, the City of Melbourne, local health and community services and other authorities to confirm the site is the most appropriate location by the end of the year.
Opposition mental health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the trials needed to be held in non-residential areas, arguing some businesses near the North Richmond site have struggled and some families have moved away.
"If Daniel Andrews was serious about protecting the community, he would immediately move the trial away from a school, family homes and small businesses," Ms Crozier said.
Richmond site’s achievements
Modelling shows at least 21 lives have been saved by the North Richmond site.
The facility has received more than 119,000 visits, handled 3200 overdoses, and no one has died.
The new centre will maintain a minimum age of 18 and legislation will need to pass parliament to establish it.
The review panel found crime had arguably not gone up in North Richmond after the facility opened, but perceptions of crime remained an issue.
The government will spend more than $9 million on projects improving the area near the North Richmond facility, including public housing.
Loretta Gabriel's son Sam O'Donnell died of a heroin overdose at age 27 in August 2016 after using the drug in a laneway.
She said all of the current clients of the North Richmond injecting room had loved ones who were desperately worried about them, and were grateful a staff member can intervene if they encounter difficulties.
"My beautiful son Sam ... he would have been alive if we had it (the injecting centre) before he died," she said.
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, who was a driver for the establishment of the North Richmond centre, said the review proved the facility was a lifesaver.
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