‘No Danger’: Not all Richmond residents want safe injecting room moved

Article by Jewel Topsfield, The AGE Nov 19 2019

Richmond resident Karen Hovenga used to watch a procession of drug users come into her front yard every morning to use her garden tap for water to shoot up heroin.

But she said this stopped abruptly when the safe injecting room opened in June last year about 100 metres from her home in Smith Street.

Some residents and Richmond West Primary parents have come out in support of the safe injecting room after becoming frustrated with the portrayal of Richmond as a frightening hellhole.
Some residents and Richmond West Primary parents have come out in support of the safe injecting room after becoming frustrated with the portrayal of Richmond as a frightening hellhole.CREDIT:SIMON SCHLUTER

“There hasn’t been a syringe in my front yard since the centre opened,” said Ms Hovenga, who is the chair of the Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House.

Ms Hovenga is among a number of residents who have decided to speak out in support of the safe injecting room after becoming frustrated that Richmond was being depicted as a frightening hellhole following its opening.

“I often feel like I am living in a different neighbourhood to people who talk negatively, who talk about terrible things,” Ms Hovenga said.

Debate over whether the injecting room should be relocated or shut down has intensified after an outreach worker from the needle exchange program at North Richmond Community Health centre was charged with trafficking heroin.

Richmond Traders distributing this. It’s time the State government listened to locals and moved the injecting centre away from kids and closer to where the drugs actually purchased

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A cartoon by Mark Knight in the Herald Sun described the injecting room as “the residential Chernobyl”.

On Saturday, a rally organised by some Victoria Street traders will be held in Richmond calling for “Dan [Andrews’] drug den” to be relocated.

David Horseman, the spokesman of a residents’ group campaigning to have the injecting room relocated, said he encouraged as many community members as possible to be there on the day.

He said Victoria Street traders had reported fewer people coming to the precinct since the injecting room opened because increased drug use on the street meant people were afraid for their safety.

But a group of residents who spoke to The Age say other voices are not being heard in the debate over the injecting room.

“The stories that as an old person you can’t go down Lennox Street without getting into deep trouble is not true,” said 86-year-old injecting room supporter Katrin Ogilvy, who has lived in York Street for 42 years.

Some parents at Richmond West Primary believe the school is being used as a political pawn by those who argue the safe injecting room should never have been located next to a school.

“I know other parents who are quite upset about the way the school is being used, particularly the arguments about the school not being safe,” said Mary Tomsic, a Highett Street resident whose twins go to the school.

Richmond West Primary School is next door to the safe injecting clinic.
Richmond West Primary School is next door to the safe injecting clinic. CREDIT:PAUL JEFFERS

Tom Muller, who has had children at Richmond West Primary for eight years, said the school was “thriving”.

A prestigious school offering a Chinese immersion bilingual program, Richmond West Primary’s enrolments have jumped from 210 in 2014 to 308 this year. Enrolments are up by 11 students from last year.

“We are not experiencing the safe injecting room having negative consequences,” Mr Muller said. “The school has co-existed with drugs forever, the staff are highly capable and highly aware and there is no danger to the kids.”

Mr Muller is frustrated by the “misrepresentation” that parents at the school hold one view opposing the safe injecting room.

The new, larger safe-injecting room in Richmond.
The new, larger safe-injecting room in Richmond.

“Stop bringing kids into the issue of the centre … the last thing we need is the centre being closed down and more people dying in the streets of Richmond,” he said.

Mr Horseman said the intention of the residents’ group calling for the injecting room’s relocation had never been to make the school a political football.

“It’s one of those things – it is impossible to deal with the underlying issue without talking about the school,” he said.

“Our desire to preserve everything the school has to offer is why we are fighting so hard to have the injecting room moved.”

But parent and Richmond resident Karl Zingre sees the location of the safe injecting room as an educational opportunity.

“I think these kids who go to Richmond West will never touch drugs because they did not live in Disney World, they know that is the reality,” Mr Zingre said. “I am pretty proud of having the school here.”

Mike Walsh moved to York Street in Richmond 17 years ago, when old pairs of runners slung over the electricity wires signalled it was a drug spot.

He believes the area is calmer since the injecting room opened.

“It feels like there is a belief we can transform the suburb into Montmorency or Camberwell,” Mr Walsh said. “It just is not real and it would lose all the great stuff that living in Richmond is.

See original article here.

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