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  • St Kilda Community Housing/Gatwick Meeting

    GATWICK ST KILDA HOUSING MEETING
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    There was a very solid turn up at a meeting held at the St Kilda Army and Navy Club in Acland Street chaired by by local member Martin Foley, a line up of the Lord Mayor of Port Phillip, Rachel Powning, St Kilda Community Housing's John Enticott, Fitzroy Street Traders Association's representative, and an owner at Robarta, Patricia Saunders, Port Phillip District Police Inspector David Blencoe and many other stakeholders, including the current Gatwick owners, the Banks sisters and Steve Paraskevas from Monroes Restaurant a business owner in the street for 37 years and directly across the road from the Gatwick.

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    The meeting opened with an introduction from Martin Foley and then into John Enticott's expanation about what St Kilda Community Housing's (SKCH) aims and objectives for the Gatwick were over a 10 year plan (5x5) to reduce occupancy by 25%, refit and relocate residents into more permenant accomodation in the area.

    A changeover was touted for last July but the Victorian Government have seen fit to deny the local comminity the pittance of $100,000 to complete a deal for the changeover of management and refitting into the SKCH model of a reduced number of permenant residents.

    Next up was the Fitzroy Street Trader's Patricia Saunders, who described a litany of activities that have affected their trading that they feel is symbiotic of the Gatwick's type of short term residents and the people that associate with them. She described the 7 Eleven across the road as a local's no go zone, I have spoken to the owners there and although they have been able to keep some relatively long term staff they are truly traumatised by some of the activity that has occurred inside and outside their doorway.

    To the Trader's Association the Gatwick is a blight on the street that is destroying their potential livelihood and capital gain, to the many libertarians in the area it symbolises cultural diversity within in their community.

    Mayor Rachel Powning also spoke of cultural diversity, but there were far too many generalisations and standard council deflections, which indicated to me they are caught between impossibly oppositional standpoints within the local community. Her point about appropriate health and welfare agency support for residents in marginal housing struck a chord with me

    Police Inspector Blencoe spoke next and as newly appointed district manager he is getting his head around this issue, one I'm sure his members of all ranks have given perfectly honest and descriptive accounts of their attendances over the years at the Gatwick. He spoke well and openly about the Forces will to help keep the area safe, but he also explained that in one of the busiest districts in Australia his people are stretched, all the time.

    Rose and Yvette Banks then addressed the meeting, in tandem, both reading from the same script alternatively. I have never met, let alone seen, these ladies before so it was surprising to see twin sisters appear. Their speech was a very touching and very honest summation of their presence in the community and their work and tolerance is angelic in my opinion. The community as a whole does not need to shut down these women, think again of their job description, it takes very special people to be able to operate, yet alone stomach the stuff they have seen and still stay sane.

    How do we as a community repay these women if they are 'moved on'? Their ilk is irreplaceable, if we listened long enough they may aslo have some of the big answers the community need, whether we can swallow them or not, in dealing with the dysfunctionalism taking over many Melbourne regions.

    Their most salient and unanswereable question in our current broader community is, where do these people who rely on The Gatwick for shelter go, they are obviously luckier than the 40,000 plus that have no adequate shelter every night in our city. The elephants in the corner is the lack of foresight in closing our mental health hospitals and hospices instead of simply upgrading and humanising them; Police resources being sopped up by what is essentially a community health issue, drugs; the Fitzroy Street brand - is it St Kilda by the Bay, that happy holiday spot designated for Melbournians and potential local and international Bohemian mecca or Fitzroy Street - last post if you are really fucked up and have no where else to go?

    Martin called a break for all attendant to address the bar and prepare for question time from the audience, and, I must say, sumptuous and voluminous supply of finger food that appeared. I had only been made aware of the meeting an hour or so before the start and I was told to expect a firey, vocal meeting but it was a truly well received by 99.9%, only a couple of interjections.

    When the meeting resumed it was again opened by the chair and the floor was thrown open to questions for the panel.

    Quite a number of local stakeholders had their piece to say and a number of salient questions were asked.

    There is no doubting that the Police District is flat out at the best of times, but the Inspector was asked what happened to the Community Policing initiative that was touted so many years ago? The question caught him on the hop a bit and it is probably still a great object for which to push. The questions and answers in regards to the use of the didtrict as a training area for young police needed to learn the gritty reality of life brought up as many new questions as they did answers though.

    The other major issue identified is the change in the street since about 2006, with a new type of shifting community of speed and ice orientated people. After the Street had brushed off the bad old days of the smack cafes and had a bit of a rennaisance, the strip has become a very dangerous place to be, anytime of the day. Although The Gatwick operators can't be blamed for this, the reputation as the last hope for many, or first stop out of hospital or prison, also means a lot that miss out are left camping rough in the area.
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    Sign in Gatwick window pointing to Metropol public toilet

    The ongoing issue of public toilets was also brought up for Rachel Powning to address, and the question was deflected by a furphy about the potential for people to hang around them and cause trouble. An attempt to point out that Acland Street had one just at the back of The Vineyard. It is one of those Tardis like ones that have a timed door. It is an issue that won't go away though.

    Metropol Precinct traders and residents are seething with anger over the fact that their precinct has been identified as the place where the only public toilet exists, and that is based on an arrarngement with the original developers with council to use the little toilets there as comfort for the commuters at the St Kilda Station tramstop and for the patrons of the Precincts night time venues.

    It is the best kept secret in the street though, and the toilets in the carpark in the Tennants parking area and Public carpark under the building are used by default. These carparks are also recommended by the local needle exchange as a place to find fresh water easily and out of the public eye, no shooting gallery = no choice; local street prostitutes use both carparks, Canterbury Road and under the IGA, as do dealers and users. A mate a tennant has come down to head off to work at 5am to find a girl splayed on his car bonnet with their customer using the BM's bumper for a bit of leverage.
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    Door left jammed for easy access to car parks in Canterbury Road

    I was telling the Inspector these stories and he asked why the IGA security doesn't sort the carpark there; I pointed out to him that when the necessary and appropriate force was used, it has been frowned on by police to which he concurred it probably was best that they didn't use too much force, and I am sure he noted the issue well.

    Local stakeholders close to the Gatwick were sometimes vocal, there was one walk over the Community Housing proposal and Steve Parasekevas, Monroes Restaurant, had a tirade launched in his direction form a Gatwick resident who is not at all happy about proposed changes and upgrades, When you consider that he has been there longer than most he might have a few insights. He spoke of staff being assaulted and customers being continual harrassed. His family has had enough and will be concentrating on their other business interests.

    I got a hearty, derisive laugh when I asked about the number of deaths that have occurred at the Gatwick over the last 20 years, from a variety of causes, I said I'd been told 150, raucous uproar ensued; speaking to Inspector Blencoe after the meeting though, he did a quick mental reckoning and said it was more likely closer to 100, or 5 a year. Still seems a lot to me!

    Local pharmacist, Russell Frajman spoke from an intimate knowledge of the health issues that plague the area, he has two chemist shopfronts in Fitzroy Street and obviously he and his staff deal with on a face to face basis, many with mental and/or drug issues. He like all traders find it terribly hard to find staff that are prepared to run the gauntlet, he only keeps the Grey Street shop open after normal hours; staff turnovers numbers in this strip are enourmous.

    Other stakeholders spoke about community inclusion and traditional mixes within the local community and how it was important to continue to reflect that mix through providing lowcost housing to those in need, and the good work done in the area by the various local housing associations is undeniably awesome. They also spoke about the importance of a more diverse mix of traders to dilute the bar/restaurant/club mix.

    Bringing a more diverse trading mix back to Ftzroy Street as it is now is not an option, retail outlets in the Street now are at breaking point, financially and emotionally. Even the one icon of strip shopping normality, the Newsagency is doing it hard, to suggest retailers and other service providers could open shopfronts is ludicrous.

    Long term business owner Jackie Yong, Jack, Jack, Jackie was a hairdressing business in Jackson Street, and a hard working committee member of Fitzroy Street Trader's Association and her frustrations at having to clear urine, vomit or faeces from her doorstep every other day.

    Port Phillip Housing have built and are nearing completion of other lowcost housing options within the district that offer brilliant fitouts and safe and respectful micro communities for many single pensioners, young mothers and elderly couples; St Kilda Community Housing are attempting to grow their numbers of beds they can offer that are self contained options as they propose at the Gatwick; they want to reduce the average occupancy from 80 to 60 and fit out the 60 rooms identified as fitting their standards which include a bathroom/toilet and kitchen area.

    When I think of social diversity in St Kilda I can never go past the Steve Prictor paintings that adorned the front bar at the Greyhound or Fred Negro's epic stories of local identities battle for existence and a beer, the epic tales of the counterculture that sculpted the pre 2006 renaissance, a strong live music scene and a Bohemian safe, sea side feel. Everybody knew each other and their foibles and the libertarian council helped nourish the general healing occurring.

    Live music, as a scene, is also recognised as one that doesn't lead to the excesses of security that nightclubs have attracted to them, there is a Live Music Accord with Government recognising the saftey promoted around live music, The nightclubs that are oopening are attracting an audience from far and wide that is not a live music audience and live venues are closing or under the pump to maintain their floorspace.

    To summarise, the meeting ended on a note of it being the meeting that foreshadowed further meetings to discuss when meetings can be organised to plan sub committee meetings to arrange further meetings with stakeholders to discuss with them the same issues they have all had for decades now.
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    Police using appropraite and necessary force to
    hold down a giant, just after Gatwick meeting

    As I strolled back home I was confronted by yet another scene on the footpath outside the Gatwick where five police officers, one obviously senior male member 6ft plus and four young female officers, each quite short struggling with a 7 foot tall West African fellow who was very agitated and resisting aggressively.

    I stopped a couple transfixed, as was the whole of the other 50 odd people on the opposite side of the street, taking in what was unfolding before them, and I asked them if they were locals, no but they were Melbournians. They were first time visitors to Fitzroy Street and asked would they return said definitely not, they found it extremely distressing to see what was an obvious necessity in controlling this fellow. One of the tattoo artist from the new business, St Kilda Ink, was also looking at the action, and when asked also spoke of the danger of the street and lack of security she felt every day.

    I am sure there will be other reports with other slants so I'll leave the subject here for now, wondering if a 10 year plan can ease any of the pain for the traders in The Street.
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