ACT News


Season's drunks fill shelter to overflow

The ACT's sobering-up shelter has begun turning the city's drunks away for the first time as it struggles to cope with an influx of alcohol- and drug-affected people..

And the shelter has warned a major gap in the system is forcing authorities to send under-age drinkers to the police watchhouse, a ''daunting'' and ''very risky'' practice that could see them housed with more serious offenders.

The Sobering Up Shelter, run by CatholicCare at Ainslie Village, is currently in its busiest period, with large crowds of revellers flocking to parties and the city's nightspots over Christmas and New Years.

The five-bed shelter is designed to give a safe and secure place overnight for people to recover from alcohol and drugs.

It provides intervention, support and referrals to its clients, and is an alternative to police custody, relieving the pressure on the ACT Policing Watch House.

But the shelter's manager, Stefanie Burvill, said staff have been forced to turn away a small number of drunks over the past few weekends.


Those who are turned away are taken to the watchhouse by police, unless someone can be found to come and pick them up.

''We've really seen quite an influx this year, bigger than we usually do, and also we're seeing an increase in more difficult intoxicated people who are finding it really hard to understand what the Sobering Up Shelter is about,'' Ms Burvill said.

''Long-term, we would need to look at more funding to open up more beds,'' she said.

The shelter is also currently unable to take in anyone under the age of 18, and ACT Health has confirmed there are no other similar services in the ACT.

Ms Burvill said this has created a major gap in the system, which leaves authorities with often no choice but to take drunken minors to the police watch house.

''The reality is, taking someone that's 16 into the watchhouse is quite a daunting experience and is very risky for those people.

''There's no accounting for what kind of memories they will have from that … and the police can't provide that intervention and that support that we provide,'' she said.''

CatholicCare is currently in negotiations with the ACT government to try to determine whether a similar service could be provided for minors, but it is unclear whether it is viable at this stage.

ACT Health is the shelter's primary funder, providing $447,000 annually.

An ACT Health spokeswoman said there were currently no plans to boost that level of funding.

The holiday period is typically the busiest period of the year for the shelter.

''We've got plenty of people who come into us that don't remember their names, can't string together a sentence, need the use of our wheelchair because they can't even walk in the front door,'' Ms Burvill said.

''People at this time of year tend to lose their inhibitions and let loose a little bit too much,'' she said.


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