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Call for urgent action on Aboriginal rough sleepers

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Premier Steven Marshall must urgently convene a “high-level” taskforce to address the issues confronting Aboriginal people who sleep rough in the park lands, the group in charge of ending city homelessness claims.

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It comes amid concerns a group of about 50 Aboriginal people who arrived in Adelaide one month ago are problem drinking, littering and causing public disturbance around Whitmore Square in the city’s south.

Anglicare SA CEO Peter Sandeman, who co-chairs the Adelaide Zero Project to end street homelessness in Adelaide, told InDaily the project last week decided to approach Premier and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Steven Marshall requesting that he urgently establish a multi-agency taskforce to address the concerns.

According to SA Police, there has been a recent increase in anti-social behaviour in the park lands.

Eastern district patrols have been deployed to Whitmore Square and South Terrace to reduce disruptive behaviour, with a police spokesperson stating that “it is not unusual for Adelaide to experience a fluctuating population at different times of year and police respond accordingly”.

Sandeman said the “urgent joint high-level” taskforce would be charged with developing an “an intensive response” to reduce the risk of harm to Aboriginal people visiting Adelaide.

He said it would ideally include the state’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement and the Department for Premier and Cabinet’s chief executive, as well as representatives from other government, city council and non-government agencies.

In 2014, the Adelaide City Council and State Government sought to prevent problem drinking in the park lands by implementing a “dry zone” between the hours of 8pm and 11am.

But Sandeman said dry zones, when applied on their own, “simply shift the issue”.

He suggested a taskforce could identify an “alternative location” to temporarily accommodate Aboriginal people visiting Adelaide “as a diversion from custody or while awaiting travel back to their home communities”.

“In cases where people need to stay longer in Adelaide and are unable to return home due to community or medical needs, we will work to provide a pathway to suitable accommodation and support,” he said.

“Let’s get a high-level group together to deal with this issue once and for all because it’s not going to go away and it’s a whole-of-government issue.”

The State Government is yet to pledge support, with Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink instead telling InDaily she was aware of problems arising from Aboriginal homelessness in the park lands and was working with stakeholders to find solutions.

InDaily reported last month that the State Government would provide $237,000 to the Adelaide Zero Project, but none of that funding was specifically targeted at addressing Aboriginal homelessness.

Lensink did not respond to questions from InDaily asking if addressing Aboriginal homelessness was a priority for the State Government, or if it was willing to provide additional funding to address the issue.

The Adelaide City Council last week decided to give $60,000 to the Adelaide Zero Project to “fast-track existing work being done on Aboriginal mobility and to begin funding the implementation of that solution”.

South ward councillor Alexander Hyde, who advocated for the council to provide the funding, last week said it would be “wise” for the council to engage in “high-level discussions” with the State Government about Aboriginal homelessness.

The Liberal Party member said there had been “many, many decades and years of inaction of this issue from the previous State Government sticking their head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist”.

“What has seriously been lacking in this area is leadership,” Hyde said.

“We’re at the point now where it’s too hard to get alcohol on country.

“Problem drinkers are forced to go to the city to get access to what they’re addicted to.”

The council’s manager of participation and inclusion Caro Mader, who sits on the Adelaide Zero Project’s steering committee, said it was unclear how much it would cost to tackle concerns stemming from Aboriginal homelessness in the park lands.

“Before the taskforce is formed we don’t have any indication of the funding that will be required or other resourcing,” she said last week.

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