Six-bed sobering-up facility dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to open in Melbourne

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A six-bed sobering center and a mobile soup van exclusively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will open next week in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda.

It is one of two such facilities being set up by the Victorian Government as new laws to decriminalize public intoxication come into effect on Melbourne Cup Day (next Tuesday).

The Victorian Government has confirmed that the St Kilda center will be managed by the Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation at one of its existing recovery facilities.

The government has already announced that a larger 20-bed sobering facility for all community members will open in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood on November 27.

“We know that people should not end up in a police cell just because they are drunk,” said a government spokesperson.

“But for a disproportionate number of First Nations people, that has long been the reality.”

However, the Victorian Opposition says the government has failed to inform residents of the St Kilda facility.

“There has been no consultation with the community,” Ms Crozier said.

“(The government) cannot manage budgets, they cannot manage projects and they cannot even manage to be at the forefront of the community.”

Port Phillip council said on Saturday it had not been consulted about the location of a sobering centre.

“Therefore, our council has yet to form an endorsed position on this issue,” Mayor Heather Cunsolo said.

‘Sobering-up center should be welcomed’

Apryl Day, an advocate for the decriminalization of public intoxication, says the center should be welcomed.

Ms Day, whose mother Tanya Day died in police custody in 2017 and whose case has since inspired the Victorian Government to change its approach to public intoxication, said the laws were too late.

She praised the concept of an Aboriginal-led, culturally informed model of care for the sober centre.

“As an Aboriginal family and as a family member who has lost someone… it’s really important that our community is a place where they are cared for,” she said.

“They are welcome and can go to a space where they know they are safe.”

Apryl Day, daughter of Tanya Day and advocate for the decriminalization of public intoxication, says a sobering center for First Nations people in St Kilda should be welcomed by the local community. (ABC News: Simon Winter)

Ms Day said the new service, which will be based at an existing facility run by an organization with experience in alcohol and drug treatment for First Nations people, should be welcomed.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to provide a safe space. It should be welcomed,” she said.

“It is long overdue, it is life-saving and life-changing.”

She added that if the laws had changed and safe sobering services existed in 2017, her mother would still be alive.

Ms Day said that as an advocate for the decriminalization of public intoxication, it was of great importance to her that the reform was about to come into force.

“It’s a really powerful moment for our community, but also for everyone in Victoria, and can hopefully lead to people being safe and cared for rather than criminalised,” she said.

How the service will work

Head of the Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation, which will lead the service, De-Joel Upkett, said the aim was “to reduce the number of lives lost and support the community affected by chronic alcohol abuse”.

He said the St Kilda branch has been owned by the organization since the 1980s.

The six-bed center will be staffed 24/7 with nurses and care providers.

“We don’t expect to be at capacity that often,” Upkett said.

“Our service will be expanded to support peak times of the week when the community may be more actively drinking on the streets.”

He said there will be a coffee and soup truck in the community that will serve drinking spots.

“During peak periods during the week, which we expect could be from Thursday to Saturday evenings, we will have assertive community outreach teams on the streets, where a Ngwala coffee and soup van will service hotspots where we know the community can gather there to offer our services.”

The team will respond to calls, he said, which could involve transporting someone home if there are no safety concerns. Alternatively, the person can be taken to the sobering center where they are offered food and rest.

From there, Mr Upkett said, they would receive referrals to other support services.

“Our hope is that we will connect our community with supportive measures of support that will begin a healing journey,” he said.

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