“They need our compassion, not judgement”: Church leaders make plea for injecting room

“They need our compassion, not judgement”: Church leaders make plea for injecting room
David Schout

Leaders from three prominent CBD churches have called on the Victorian Government to open a safe injecting room in the central city, urging the state’s leaders to recognise a pressing need to help Melbourne’s “most vulnerable”.

In a letter to Premier Jacinta Allan and Mental Health Minister Ingrid Stitt, the church leaders said there was irrefutable evidence that medically supervised facilities work, and the issue could no longer “be hidden or pushed elsewhere”.

Reverends Rachel Kronberger (Wesley Uniting), Dr Margaret Mayman (pictured - St Michael’s Uniting) and Dr Simon Carey Holt (Collins Street Baptist) – plus Pastor James Winderlich from St John’s Lutheran Church in Southbank – called on Allan and Stitt to honour the government’s pledge in 2020 to open the state’s second injecting room.

The group said their churches “have been here for almost as long as the city itself” and were motivated by an “enduring Christian commitment to justice and the sanctity of life”.

“We remain committed to ensuring Melbourne is a place that nurtures the wellbeing of all its citizens, including those most vulnerable,” the letter read, noting the decade-high 24 overdose deaths in Melbourne in 2022.

 

As those who seek to care, we are confronted with the realities of this every day. The anxiety on our streets is palpable, especially among those who are struggling to survive.

 

“Supervised injecting rooms, or overdose prevention services, recognise the complex factors that contribute to addiction, including poverty, trauma and mental illness.”

“These services recognise that some individuals may continue to use drugs despite efforts to discourage them. Drug use is often a response to trauma and abuse, sometimes at the hands of people who are meant to care for them.”

“Some people may recover and then relapse many times over. They need our compassion, not our judgement.”

The call from church leaders comes 12 months after almost 80 CEOs of community, health and welfare groups similarly signed a joint letter calling on the state government to open a CBD safe injecting room.

That letter argued that leaders had to look beyond emotion, judgement, and fear, and to assess the hard evidence, something echoed by the Reverends.

“While the debate surrounding the establishment of such services has become highly political, there is no controversy when it comes to scientific evidence,” the letter read.

“Studies of more than 120 injecting services around the world demonstrate that they are one of the most effective tools in addressing serious harm caused by drug dependence in our community.”

The church leaders said beyond evidence or studies supporting injecting rooms, however, the core of the issue remained caring for those on the city’s fringes.

“In our view, we cannot pretend any longer that that the need to provide appropriate care to those in the trip of addictions and related mental health challenges does not exist, nor that this need can be hidden or pushed elsewhere.”

“We cannot imagine our city as one that welcomes only those who are healthy and well-resourced and leaves others on its edges. We are all diminished by such an approach.”

Government defies order to release injecting room report

The letter came just weeks after the government defied an order to release a long-awaited report which includes key recommendations for a CBD injecting room.

The government has held the crucial report, by former police commissioner Ken Lay, for almost 12 months and while committing to its eventual public release was yet to do so.

In February, crossbench and opposition MPs in the Victorian Upper House ordered the government to hand over the document by March 6.

However, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said the government would claim “executive privilege” on the report and failed to disclose it.

Former Premier Daniel Andrews announced in 2020 that the City of Melbourne would house the state’s second injecting room after the first, in North Richmond, was struggling to deal with demand.

The rollout, though, has been beset by delays and shifting priorities by a government which now could not commit to whether it will go ahead at all.

Several CBD sites have been proposed to house the facility; first, community health service cohealth on Victoria St, then the former Yooralla building on Flinders St, and most recently the Salvation Army hub on Bourke St.

Commanding officer Brendan Nottle told The Age in March, however, that there had been “total radio silence” from the government about the prospect since it first floated the idea last year.

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