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New Indigenous sobering centre to be in St Kilda

Dechlan Brennan -

St Kilda will become the second inner-city location to house a sobering-up centre when Victoria decriminalises public drunkenness on November 7.

First revealed in The Age on Friday evening, residents of the area have been letterboxed with a flyer from the Department of Health, stating Mitchell Street in St Kilda would establish a sobering-up service for Indigenous people.

Sources confirmed the centre would be run by the Aboriginal community-controlled organisation, Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation.

Ngwala Willumbong says it is "dedicated to delivering quality specialist alcohol and drug residential rehabilitation and outreach support services to meet the needs of Aboriginal people and their families".

The flyer said the new centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will "operate in St Kilda from an existing health service premise that is close to public transport and other health services".

The legitimacy of the flyer has been independently confirmed by the National Indigenous Times

"The service will be a facility with trained staff on site to provide care and wrap-around supports to people accessing the service," the flyer said.

"Ngwala Willumbong has been appointed to deliver services at this facility and will provide additional communications as it continues to work on establishing the centre."

The centre - once fully operational, and when the law change came into effect on November 7 - will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for Indigenous people who needed the service.

A government spokesperson told National Indigenous Times on Saturday morning: "Simply being intoxicated in public shouldn't be a crime. And from Tuesday, it won't be."

"We know people shouldn't end up in a police cell just for being intoxicated. But for a disproportionately high number of First Nations people, that's long been the reality. Police and paramedics will continue to help Victorians as they normally would in instances where there are emergency health or community safety risks," they said.

The Victorian government website says the latest budget allocated $88.3 million over three years for a state-wide rollout of the "health-based response to public intoxication, including dedicated services for Aboriginal Victorians."

The government website says a six-bed facility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be opened alongside a 20-bed facility for the "general population."

The 20-bed facility will be situated in Collingwood and operated by non-profit community health organisation cohealth.

The state opposition and the police union - both who support the decriminalisation of public drunkenness and a health-based approach - have asked the government for more time for the law change to be implemented.

The facilities will only be accessed by people when they have given their consent.

Ten outreach teams will operate throughout Melbourne to help people. They will include a nurse and substance specialist.

Sources told National Indigenous Times that during the trials for the law change - which have been operating for 18 months - most people who engaged with outreach teams didn't require the sobering centre and instead just required support to help them engage with friends and family or get home.

They also noted that any sobering centre would only be a place of last resort.

The law has been changed, in part due to the death of Yorta Yorta woman Aunty Tanya Day, who died in a prison cell after being arrested for public drunkenness in 2017.

Indigenous, legal and health groups have been calling for the law change, which was first recommended by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Nerita Waight said the new law change was something Indigenous Victorians had been waiting a long time for.

This is a critical step that will take us one step closer to ending racist policing against Aboriginal people," she said.

National Indigenous Times contacted Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation for comment.

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