By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Town Council community services committee last night resolved to take charge of the fragmented efforts to control the children roaming the streets at night, all of them clearly at risk and many of them committing offences.
Their number is not known to the town council but its Youth Patrol gave 1149 lifts home to people aged under 18 last month.
The debate was frequently spirited, but in the end the factions buried the hatchet and unanimously agreed to create a place where young people are “fed, entertained and put to bed, a drop-in centre not a drop-out centre, an overnight boarding house,” as Cr Steve Brown put it.
And the CLP candidate for Araluen said at this point in our “election cycle” this is a good issue to raise with the government.
Cr Eli Melky – prone to lock horns with Cr Brown – agreed: “The council needs to step up and be the leader. It’s time to move from talk fests to action. We are the leaders of today.”
Mayer Damien Ryan was absent from the meeting on personal leave.
Cr Brown said some of the children roaming the streets at 1am or 2am are girls aged eight or 10. They would need to be retained over night and be released to a responsible adult and into an environment where they are safe.
The night safe house, as the facility was called in a motion passed unanimously at the end of the debate, should have a lock-in and lock-out policy, said Cr Brown.
He had substantial support from Cr Jamie de Brenni who said the initiative – currently mostly a pick-up service run by the council in partnership with the NT Government and Congress – should be widened and include participation of businesses because they stand to gain from reduction in the wave of petty crime.
Cr de Brenni said there needs to be a “distribution of risk” with money coming not just from the public purse. There are suitable premises in town which are unoccupied. The council should “invite new partners, local businesses … get the initial concept moving. Let people know”.
Cr Chansey Paech suggested the council should broaden the scope of its Youth Patrol: “Congress would welcome it,” he said.
Cr Melky said it’s necessary to create a home environment where children are safe, where there is food and medicines.
“They are in and stay in, lights out,” he said. “They are not allowed to go out.”
When a suggestion for a similar initiative was put to Chief Minister Adam Giles by the Alice Springs News Online in May, quoting a suggestion from a reader, Mr Giles described it as “draconian”.
Cr Melky said last night children should be released only into a safe environment. Dangerous homes should be identified, and so should domestic violence perpetrators.
“We cannot allow this to go on,” he said.
The issue was not on last night’s initial agenda and was raised by Cr Brown in general business.
He said the problems with many youths who are “not criminal but bored” had changed: Youth camps and Bushmob initiatives are successful for male teenagers, but not enough is being done for the children who are in the streets now.
Cr Jade Kudrenko, who chaired that part of last night’s meeting, said an after-hours drop-in centre is already on the wish list the council has presented to the NT government. Does Cr Brown want more that that?
He replied that the council needed a larger role in the process: “We need decent facilities.”
At that point crackers went off in the street outside the meeting chamber.
“Young people are celebrating your request, Cr Brown,” quipped Cr Kudrenko.
Cr Brendan Heenan said the current initiatives are not working. Kids are dropped home by the council pick-up service, which operates seven days a week, and “next night they are out again”.
They need beds, food. Perhaps volunteers or retired teachers could be asked to help. With additional funding the YMCA and Bushmob could play a bigger role.
Long term education opportunities need to be provided, said Cr Heenan: “A whole generation could be lost if they don’t go to school next day.”
The council should push the issue at the current election time, ask for a budget. It could “start slowly, get off the ground and then build on it. Do a trial,” said Cr Heenan.
Several councillors said these issues have been raised frequently in the past with no results.
CEO Rex Mooney said a public forum late last year had an “attendance a little under expectation”.
He said information collected by the Youth Patrol (in June giving 679 lifts to “females” and 470 to “males” as stated in last night’s report) are passed on to “all relevant authorities. It is shared”.
No details were given about what they do with that information.
Both Cr Kudrenko and Cr Paech suggested the youth issues are a matter for the government, and that existing services could work more successfully if their funding were increased.
Cr Paech said there had been discussions with the NT Government and the police about a drop-in centre prior to 2012. It did not work.
He said there is already a youth refuge, ASYASS (Alice Springs Youth Accommodation and Support Services Inc) and multi million dollar upgrades to the Youth Centre are under way.
“We have a youth sector out there that can do it,” said Cr Paech.
And Cr Kudrenko asked who pays for it? We have capable agencies but they don’t have enough money.
“We are discussing this every couple of months but we need to identify who pays for it,” she said.
Cr Jacinta Price also said the town had a youth refuge and cautioned against re-inventing the wheel.
“Ask them what they need,” she said, agreeing that the business community should also be involved.
Tensions rose when Cr Kudrenko suggested Cr Brown was asking council officers to do something without giving them a budget, “the elephant in the room”. She suggested holding the NT Government to account which is failing to provide sufficient funding.
Cr Brown said: “I completely disagree.”
Nobody has been doing any coordinating, this has gone on for years, “it’s time we did act”.
He said a night safe house is a logical extension of the existing service.
“We need an agency, not agencies, not funding applications left right and centre,” he said.
We need an agency that “helps, feeds and looks after” these children.
“Under what authority could we direct an agency?” asked Cr Kudrenko.
Cr Brown insisted the facility is needed, this is a first step, costs need to be determined.
“Do we provide the funds? Do we ask the government?” he asked.
In the end the meeting carried unanimously this motion: “That Council engage with existing partners and invite new partners to be part of the process of developing a night safe house that caters for children who are involved in Youth Night Patrol.”
This recommendation will now go for ratification – and possible further debate – to the full council meeting on July 26.
PHOTOS from top, at lest night’s council committee meeting: Councillors Steve Brown and Jamie de Brenni • Councillors Eli Melky, Chansey Paech and Jacinta Price • CEO Rex Mooney and Cr Jade Kudrenko.
By ERWIN CHLANDA