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Marshall defends Hutt St Centre against "instant experts" on talkback radio


The under-fire Hutt Street Centre for homeless people has received powerful support from the South Australian business community and Premier Steven Marshall.

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The centre’s annual business fundraising lunch yesterday attracted a record crowd – just over 600 people – and raised $190,000, a day after an anonymous flyer was distributed in the city attacking the organisation’s work.

Opening the event, Marshall said he was pleased to publicly back the centre’s work and pointedly referred to “instant experts” on talkback radio.

“There are too many people in South Australia who are experiencing homelessness,” he told the gathering at Adelaide Oval’s Magarey Room.

“And whilst a lot of people want to jump onto talkback radio and think that they’re the instant experts of this very, very complex area of social policy, we know and we’re very grateful that there are some people who are extraordinarily dedicated to dealing with this complex area of public policy in a considered and professional way.”

The 64-year-old centre’s work – and its location in the south-east corner of the city – have been under fire for several months due to what critics argue is an increase in violence in the area and a resulting rise in shop vacancies nearby.

Adelaide city councillors Anne Moran and Alex Antic, a senior official in the state Liberal Party, have been leading the public calls for action to address the alleged problem in the southern section of Hutt Street, near the centre for the homeless. Moran wants the Hutt Street Centre moved and Marshall yesterday, in an interview before the fundraising event, said that moving the centre might be an option in the future.

SA Police insist there hasn’t been an increase in reported crimes in Hutt Street. However, the city council has installed CCTV cameras around the centre and paid for a security guard to be stationed at a cafe opposite. A working group – closed to the public and the media – has been formed to address alleged problems in the southern section of the street.

This week, however, the debate about Hutt Street took a new turn. An anonymous flyer was distributed to properties in the city’s south-east corner, fiercely attacking the centre’s work and urging residents to mobilise against alleged plans for a four-storey expansion. It included images of apparent designs for a new centre, but the Hutt Street Centre says those concepts were produced years ago by architecture students at their own initiative and didn’t represent the centre’s ambitions for the site.

Marshall referenced the attacks on the centre yesterday, but said he was pleased to publicly support the centre and, judging by the turnout at the fundraising lunch, many in the community were also happy to say “we’re standing by the Hutt Street Centre”.

“Yes, they’ve experienced a bit of flak lately, but they’ve stood up and the work that they do is outstanding,” he said.

The Premier said Hutt Street Centre was working not just on a welfare model, but a capacity-building model.

He praised the new Zero Project,  an initiative of the Don Dunstan Foundation with involvement from Hutt Street, in which 200 volunteers had found 140 people sleeping rough around the city last week, and had already found accommodation for more than 10 per cent of those.

“We can deal with this issue. It is a complex issue, but we can deal with it,” Marshall said.

Hutt Street Centre CEO Ian Cox told the event he was “‘bewildered by the lack of factual information and compassion portrayed at times on the most vulnerable in our community, but we’re not going to lose hope, we won’t lose focus”.

“We can’t fix the entire world all at once… But we’re going to ensure that all of our rough sleepers, and those that are at risk of homelessness, that they’re not demonised, which is happening at the moment.”

However, he said the recent debate had made the centre’s community stronger.

“We absolutely would never run away from our responsibilities as a not-for-profit – never shirk our responsibilities as a provider of homeless services. We’re going to continue being innovative, going to continue looking at our service-delivery model.

“What our message to the community here is please don’t lose heart – we haven’t – and if anything it’s made us stronger.”

Cox indicated that while a rebuild of the centre was on the agenda, it wouldn’t happen for some time.

“We’ve talked about a rebuild in our strategic plan for the last three years. I spoke about this last year. We actually haven’t moved on anything yet because we’ve been too busy, doing what we’re doing.

“But we know it takes time, we know we have a new State Government, and we’ll continue to work with them as well.”

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