Wollongong drunk tank shut before trial over

Sober light of day: Wollongong Watershed chief executive Will Temple sits inside one of the rooms. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR
Sober light of day: Wollongong Watershed chief executive Will Temple sits inside one of the rooms. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

"Totally ridiculous" is how Watershed chief executive Will Temple sees the decision to close Wollongong's sobering up centre, saying the facility was not given a chance to prove itself.

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

The NSW government announced on Wednesday it would pull funding from Watershed and a similar facility in Randwick from June 30, which would force seven Watershed staff to be let go.

Mr Temple said the centre was hamstrung by a small catchment area - between the railway line and Swan Street to the south, and Fairy Meadow to the north - plus a lengthy process in meeting requirements for ambulances to deliver intoxicated people.

"We've had our hands tied. Of course it hasn't worked yet," he said. "We should open the catchment area to the whole region, not just the CBD.

"The hospital is up the road but outside the area, so they can't use us. It's ridiculous."

NSW Family and Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton put the closure of the drunk tank, as it has become known, down to simple maths.

"The fact is there were simply not enough clients," Ms Upton said. "Given the low numbers ... and the cost, we would prefer the money be better spent where it's needed on other programs."

Mr Temple said the facility had recorded 67 admissions since opening, but said its benefits went beyond simple stats.

"It's keeping people safe and off the streets. It's doing its job," Mr Temple said.

"If your child is intoxicated, you want them picked up and safe rather than sleeping on the street."

Wollongong MP Noreen Hay blasted the decision, saying the centre needed more time.

"The minister has no concept of the benefits of early alcohol intervention," she said.

"We should let it run its course, not pull funding before time is up."

The Watershed centre cost up to $2 million to build. Mr Temple said an independent evaluation on the centre was being made, and criticised the government for making the decision before the report was released.

"The true impact has not been measured. Let's give it a fair go, we've only had nine months of a 12-month trial," he said.

Watershed will lobby to extend the trial until 2015.


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