Wollongong councillor Vicki Curran has criticised plans to encourage the so-called antisocial element in Crown Street Mall to use Wesley Church as a meeting place, calling it ‘‘marginalisation of our poor’’ and “hiding them away”.
On Wednesday, representatives of Wollongong City Council told the Mercury the scheme would encourage ‘‘antisocial’’ users of the mall to use the Wesley Church to access social or health referrals, instead of loitering in the main mall thoroughfare.
The plan, designed by a working group of council, police, security, methadone and health clinics, Wesley Church and the GPT group, officially began a six-month trial on August 4.
“It is about getting new retailers into the shops. Let’s not be mistaken here, there is a business interest around this.''
Cr Curran contacted the Mercury to voice outrage over the plan. She claimed councillors had not been informed of the working group or the plan, which she said would be ineffective and offensive to those targeted.
“It is marginalisation of our poor … leading money to be given to a church without the normal procurement and administration process,” Cr Curran said.
“This plan is hiding people away in a dark corner, making them walk down the mall knowing people don’t like them. It astounds me they think these people will want to go to the church. They prefer to sit in a nice, open space,” Cr Curran said.
She accused council and the GPT group of an effort to clean up and gentrify the shopping strip as part of the expensive mall redevelopment.
“It is about getting new retailers into the shops. Let’s not be mistaken here, there is a business interest around this,” she said.
“If this isn’t gentrification, what is? We have the CCTV, a network that goes to the police, and we already have social support services, so let’s not accept that excuse.”
She proposed a roundtable symposium with economists, sociologists and government representatives to address root causes of socio-economic disadvantage in the region.
“Instead of a band-aid solution, or paying money to hide the problem, let’s get the right people to tackle what is causing those problems, which is high unemployment, homelessness and housing affordability,” she said.
“If there is a problem, it needs to go through the proper process. People in our community should not be marginalised or hidden away from our public places.”