Keep Wollongong sober-up centre open, minister urged

Watershed chief executive Will Temple inside the sober-up facility.

Watershed chief executive Will Temple inside the sober-up facility.

Advocates of Wollongong’s sobering up centre have launched a last-ditch attempt to save the rehabilitation facility before it closes in less than a fortnight.

The Watershed centre, adjacent to Wollongong Railway Station, opened in September 2013 in a 12-month state government trial targeting alcohol-fuelled violence.

However, late last month the government announced it would pull funding from Watershed and a similar facility in Randwick, which will force seven Wollongong-based staff to be let go after June 28.

Watershed supporter Simon Insley started a petition on change.org, calling for Family and community services minister Gabrielle Upton to rethink this decision.

‘‘Feedback from the local community has been overwhelmingly positive towards the continuance of the centre,’’ Mr Insley said to the Mercury. ‘‘Of the 68 [people treated by the centre], five have undertaken rehabilitation and one was listed as a missing person and returned to their family.’’

Watershed chief executive Will Temple admitted the number of people treated by the centre in the past nine months was low  compared to Sydney’s mandatory centre, which as seen hundreds, but said his centre deserved a full trial under improved circumstances. 

‘‘If I was the minister and those numbers came across my desk, I would have put a red pen through it,’’ Mr Temple said.

‘‘But what I don’t think she has a full understanding of is the reason the numbers are low, which is because of the restrictive catchment area [from Fairy Meadow to Swan Street in Wollongong] of people who can be put in there.’’

‘‘By restricting us and restricting the people that can come into the place, it was doomed to fail from the beginning – and we’d like a fair go.’’

The petition is urging the minister to extend the centre’s catchment area to encompass all of the Wollongong Police Command and let the trial  continue for another year.

The online petition has received almost 200 signatures, with a number of people leaving messages of support for the centre.

‘‘Alcohol related violence is a major society issue – and the Watershed sobering up centre is a great initiative for not only the safety of our community and the people who work in essential services, but also the safety of the individuals concerned,’’ Leanne Darlington said in her submission on change.org. ‘‘We should be expanding these centres, not closing them.’’

Jane Thompson said: ‘‘I have family that work in the hospital system and closing this centre will only put more pressure on the emergency services.’’ 

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