BY ANDREW BARCLAY
Sydney’s homeless population is set to benefit after the City of Sydney Council proposed scrapping over 60 alcohol-free areas across the city.
Under the plan zones will be removed across several suburbs including Redfern, Surry Hills, Newtown and Darlinghurst.
Homelessness NSW has welcomed the proposal, which it said unfairly targeted people sleeping rough.
CEO Katherine McKernan said in the past the zones meant homeless people had been overly scrutinised.
“The majority of people who street drink are from disadvantaged parts of the community,” she told City Hub.
“It was impacting homeless people more than others, so for that reason we welcome it.”
Council documents showed concerns were raised that current restrictions disproportionately impacted on “vulnerable groups”, without putting in place “additional measures” including counseling services.
The council decision to remove the signs comes when Sydney’s homeless population is at an all-time high of 516, according to figures from Homelessness NSW.
In a submission to the review, Redfern Legal Centre, whose clients include disadvantaged and marginalised people, said the alcohol-free zones were “redundant”.
“Given that police have adequate powers to deal with anti-social behaviour, there is little benefit in continuing with the expansion and use of AFZs,” the submission said.
“This presents an opportunity for the City of Sydney to increase the well-being of its vulnerable populations by treating those who habitually consume alcohol in public as benefiting from support services rather than police reprimands.”
But a police group has dismissed concerns the zones disproportionately target the homeless.
Scott Wheeler, President of the NSW Police Association, told City Hub the zones were a useful tool in reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.
“These zones actually protect the homeless,” he said.
“They are a safety mechanism for police to look after the community.”
Figures from Homelessness NSW showed homeless people have high levels of interaction with police.
Two-thirds of respondents said they bad been arrested, according to the organisation’s statistics.
“Significantly, survey respondents reported over 9,200 interactions with police in the last six months,” a recent report said.
City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott said in the past, the zones have forced street drinkers out of public areas and into back lanes.
“It’s not the right thing to do,” Clr. Scott said.
“It’s concerning that these zones may mean there is a risk these people will be criminalised.”
Instead Clr. Scott said they should be supported through treatment programs.
The number of alcohol-free zones has increased dramatically under Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s tenure, rising from 149 to almost 400 since 2009.
As part of the submission, the City of Sydney received 117 submissions objecting to zones and areas and 29 submissions in support.
The NSW Government is also undertaking a reviewing of its controversial lockout laws, which many have said have impacted upon Sydney’s once vibrant nightlife. As a result, the City of Sydney also received 340 submissions relating to the lockout laws, yet these were deemed “not relevant” as they weren’t directly related to the alcohol-free zone review.
Councillors are due to vote on the move next week. If accepted, the changes will come into effect on July 3.