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- The state government will open a 20 bed sobering up centre at 3 Cambridge street in Collingwood.
- The centre is part of the government’s response to the passing of legislation to decriminalise public drunkenness which will switch to a health-based response from a justice response.
- From 7 November it will no longer be a criminal offence to be intoxicated in public in Victoria, instead it will be treated as a medial issue with diversionary pathways to outreach services.
- Sobering up centres were first proposed in 2020 as part of the process of decriminalising public drunkenness and treating intoxication as a health issue rather than a police matter, a reform committed to after the highly publicised death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day in December 2017.
Victoria’s first sobering-up centre will be in Collingwood, with the government expecting it to be open before new public drunkenness laws come into force in November.
Community health provider cohealth will run the centre at 3 Cambridge Street, although the organisation was not aware it had won the tender until contacted by The Age on Thursday.
Outreach leader Danny Jeffcote and community health nurse Xi Chen with the cohealth van in Collingwood. The community health provider will operate the state’s sobering up centre. Credit: Penny Stephens
The 20-bed facility is part of the state government’s response to the passing of legislation to decriminalise public drunkenness.
From November 7 it will no longer be a criminal offence to be intoxicated in public in Victoria. Drunkenness will instead be treated as a medical issue, with diversionary pathways to outreach services.
The Collingwood location was chosen because of its proximity to the CBD, public transport and St Vincent’s Hospital.
Outreach services will be conducted by cohealth to support people who are drunk in a public space and, if needed, transport them to a safe place to rest and sober up.
The government said that for most people that would be their own home or that of friends or family, but for others it would be the sobering-up centre in Collingwood.
Trained staff will work alongside health and social support providers to ensure that those using the centre can also access services to assist with issues including alcohol and other drugs, family violence, homelessness, mental health and financial difficulties.
Danny Jeffcote, cohealth’s alcohol and drug outreach leader, said the new service would use a combination of street-based outreach workers, mobile vans and the sobering-up centre to improve people’s health and reduce the burden on police and other emergency services.
“This is about changing the way that we as a community respond to public drunkenness and understanding that people who are highly intoxicated need to be kept safe, not arrested and locked up,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Victorian government said construction on the centre would begin soon.
She would not say how much the centre would cost but $84.3 million was earmarked in this year’s budget to implement the health-based response to public drunkenness.
Sobering-up centres were proposed in 2020 as part of the process of decriminalising public drunkenness and treating intoxication as a health issue rather than a police matter, a reform committed to after the death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day in December 2017.
Day had fallen asleep on a train from Bendigo when police took her to Castlemaine police station, where she hit her head at least five times inside a cell without any officers checking on her wellbeing. She was taken to hospital where she died 17 days later.
Victoria and Queensland are the only Australian states or territories that consider public drunkenness an offence.
Aboriginal communities, who are disproportionately affected by the current laws, have advocated for reform for decades.
Mental Health Minister Gabrielle Williams said the reforms struck a balance between supporting people who were drunk and community safety.
“There is still a lot of work to do, but there is no doubt these services will save lives – by listening directly to the Aboriginal community we will be able to deliver culturally appropriate services focused on care, not punishment,” Williams said.
The centre will be at 3 Cambridge Street in Collingwood. Credit: Penny Stephens
The government spokeswoman said additional health-led outreach and sobering-up services for Aboriginal people would also be established across the state.
Police, doctors and community groups have raised concerns that the state is not prepared to abolish the crime of public drunkenness.
Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria will continue to provide responses in instances of public drunkenness where there are emergency health concerns or community safety is at risk.
A spokesman for Victoria Police said the location of the sobering-up centre was a matter for the government.
Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said a facility in Collingwood would assist people in inner Melbourne, but not people in regional Victoria in places such as Warrnambool, Shepparton and Mildura.
“This is not a Melbourne reform, it’s a Victorian one,” he said. “Will this facility be complete by the time the legislation is introduced? Where will regional cities take their people?
“We’re three months out from this reform going live and we’re no closer to answering the plethora of questions we raised two years ago.”
Ambulance Victoria was contacted for comment. Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill welcomed the announcement.
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