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From Kings Cross to Victoria St

Given the current negative impact street drug injecting is causing on the City of Yarra I thought my experience in Sydney with the Kings Cross Medically Supported Injecting Centre (MSIC) and the positive impact it had, and continues to have on the surrounding environment would be useful.

BACKGROUND In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I was working in Kings Cross in Sydney. My daily routine took me twice a day along Darlinghurst Road and through some of the backstreets to get to and from my workplace. When I first started this daily commute the drug problem was rife in Kings Cross. Many times a day ambulances and police could be heard speeding to overdose cases and attending to scenes of already dead bodies. This situation clearly had terrible impacts on the local traders and residents of the area. The standard story of traders arriving to work for the day only to be greeted by an overdose victim in the back alley of their business, users sitting in gutters taking any opportunity to shoot up in the spaces between cars and startling local resident was routine. Twenty years later I describe the current situation around Richmond and Abbotsford as being similar, if not worse, than Kings Cross was then.

THE TRANSITION At that time there had been considerable resistance by some of the traders of Kings Cross to any proposal of a safe injecting facility for Kings Cross. The resistance was understandable given what the impact the current drug problem was creating. There were concerns of a “honeypot effect”, increased dealing, other more viable options available and an increase in crime relating to any MSIC. I must confess that at this point in time I was strongly in the camp of resistance along with these traders. I had the same concerns as they did, and I could not see what advantage there was to introducing a facility like that into Kings Cross. My view changed when I saw the positive impact the eventual MSIC had on the area to both the traders and residents.

Midway through my tenure of working in Kings Cross the MSIC was opened. My memory doesn’t recall any grand opening other than communications with local residents and traders that the facility was to open. Immediately my previously expressed concerns were put to rest. There was no honeypot effect. There was no increased dealing. Traders could now arrive at work and not have to deal with the consequences of street injecting. Looking back 20 years, the positive impact now seems to have been immediate.

THE NOW The MSIC has provided the users with a safe and clean facility off the streets and lane ways. This has had many flow-on positive impacts to traders and residents. No more 24/7 police and ambulance attendances to overdoses, thus freeing up attendance of emergency services to a wider public. Visitors to the area are no longer confronted to people shooting up in full view of the public. Users are now funnelled into support and rehabilitation services that are normally not accessible to street users. The amenity of the whole Kings Cross area has benefitted from the establishment of this MSIC facility.

In summary, I am a convert to the MSIC proposal. I was once a staunch critic in Sydney of this initiative, however my first hand experiences many years ago have resulted to a 180 degree turnaround in my thinking. I currently live very close to Victoria Street in Richmond and would be extremely happy to have a MSIC set up close to me and would not even mind if a facility such as this was established “in my backyard” if a suitable location was to be found.

I make myself available to any trader or resident who would like to discuss my experiences with me. I can be contacted through the Victoria Street Drug Solutions group and I look forward to any discussion.

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