Police urge traders to be “part of solution” at problem CBD location

Police urge traders to be “part of solution” at problem CBD location
David Schout

Victoria Police wants to work closely with Elizabeth St South businesses to clean up a “perpetual” trouble spot.

Victoria Police have urged businesses at the southern end of Elizabeth St to be “part of the solution” to help fix what is a “problem location”.

On February 28 the police are set to host a symposium with nearby business owners, alongside the City of Melbourne, Ambulance Victoria and Salvation Army, to communicate ongoing operations and future hopes for the issue-prone area.

This meeting will follow a January 25 roundtable hosted by the council and other key stakeholders that also sought to find solutions to the growing issues on the block between Flinders St and Flinders Lane.

The renewed focus comes as the prominent location, which serves as a gateway to the CBD, continues to be a site of safety concerns and illegitimate begging according to the police.

Area Commander for Melbourne East Inspector Dale Huntington said police want to work closely with local businesses, who they see as crucial in helping clean up the area.

“We’re looking at traders and giving them an understanding of what we’ve been doing,” he told CBD News.

“Some people do, but a lot don’t because they’re busy in their lives and businesses and trying to make ends meet … people spend a lot of time at businesses and work, and we want to make sure that environment is the best it can be for them.”

“And, they can be part of that solution. We want to give them a really good understanding of what we’re doing, because it’s not a simple solution. [People saying] ‘get them out of my area’ is not easy.”

Inspector Huntington understood that some businesses owners, particular those who had been in the area for many years, may have given up hope that things could change.

However, he wanted to tell traders that improvements were possible, starting with better lines of communication, and urged businesses to report issues.

“We’re saying we want you to ring in, we want you to be part of the solution and help us address this issue. When people set up their piece of cardboard out the front of your premises … if you’re competing with someone who hasn’t got a person begging out the front, you’re losing customers. We want you to report those people in.”

The police also sought to guide businesses on what they shouldn’t be doing (for example, giving away food) which could be exacerbating issues.

Focus on fake beggars

Through Operation Protocol, a partnership outreach program alongside the Salvation Army and the council, Victoria Police say they’ve helped lower the number of rough sleepers in the CBD and are better-balanced at supporting people experiencing homelessness while maintaining safety and amenity.

“No one should ever sleep or be left on the street. It is not a safe location to sleep on the street,” Inspector Huntington said.

He said the people causing issues at the southern end of Elizabeth St were not the rough sleepers who were known to them.

Rather, they were people posing as beggars who travel into the city and “take advantage” of “Melbourne’s generosity”.

“We’ve got a really robust system now in looking after those people and engaging with the appropriate government authorities in relation to people who need to be housed and supported. These [beggars] are not those people. We can comfortably say now that we’re dealing with these people behind the scenes who need assistance,” Inspector Huntington said.

“This is a different thing we’re looking at. This is a thing that’s impacting people walking on the streets, especially those with a disability, and impacting businesses who are trying to make a dollar.”

“We’re looking out for those who need help – the homeless. But for people who are coming here to do the wrong thing they will be moved along, if not processed in some shape or form.”

“It’s always been this way”

While some have argued that the southern end of Elizabeth St was getting worse, Inspector Huntington argued that it had “always been” a problem location.

He pointed to the early 2000s when the spot outside Flinders Street Station was a site of “severe assaults” in the streets which resulted in serious injuries.

“It’s not that. It’s people hanging around causing issues,” he said.

“There’s not many ‘risk areas’ in the city [but] this is one of them. And it’s perpetual, it’s been that way for decades and certainly as long as I’ve been a police officer. So it’s not something that’ll be fixed overnight or six months. It’ll be a slow burn.”

“That area hasn’t had too much TLC over the years, but we have to ask ourselves as traders, as police, as council, ‘what can we do to make the area better without massive infrastructure changes?’” •

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