How ice addicts have overtaken street

SOUTHPORT retailer Dale Anderson spoke for many when he told the Gold Coast Bulletin this week that the problem of people hanging around in Southport, fighting, drinking and doing drugs, is "getting out of hand".

I know he's right. The Bulletin is based in Southport and like most people who either live or work in the suburb, I've on many occasions witnessed the issue first-hand.

It's not an area I would recommend family, friends, or especially tourists, should visit.

A stroll down Scarborough Street in the middle of the day will be enough to put you off.

Mr Anderson said customers had to "step over" people lying in shopfronts. It is no exaggeration, it is quite literally true.

 

 

Dale Anderson spoke for many when he expressed frustration about the problems of drunk and drug-addicted people hanging around in the Southport CBD. Picture: Luke Mortimer.
Dale Anderson spoke for many when he expressed frustration about the problems of drunk and drug-addicted people hanging around in the Southport CBD. Picture: Luke Mortimer.

Recently, I almost tripped over a chap when crossing the road at the pedestrian crossing outside Australia Fair. Sprawled, spread-eagled on the road, he lay motionless with his eyes firmly closed.

I was the first to spot him, but others soon followed. He was lying right in the path of traffic so he wasn't going to remain unnoticed for long.

I asked him if he was OK. There was no response. I asked again, repeatedly, until at last, in a low drawl, he scowled the words "concussion" and "ambulance".

Ambos were duly called, while I stood with two others over the man so he would not be hit by traffic. Eventually, he was encouraged to the side of the road.

Ambulance staff help a person on Scarborough Street in Southport. Picture: Dale Anderson.
Ambulance staff help a person on Scarborough Street in Southport. Picture: Dale Anderson.


The ambulance was slow in coming, leading the "patient" to become progressively less mute and more aggressive.

Among other things, although he was incapable of standing, he threatened to kill everyone with a chainsaw. Nobody paid the slightest attention to his ramblings. They'd all seen such behaviour in the middle of Southport before.

After a couple of minutes the QAS arrived. They pulled up slowly. This was no lights and sirens job.

The paramedics hopped out and tended to the patient. They were impeccably caring and professional, but their voices betrayed a certain weariness. It was clear they'd had to do this many times before.

The man told them he'd had "too much ice". He needed meds. Off he went in the ambulance.

I finally started making my way back to the office. It is a distance of only 350m, a short two to three-minute walk. But sure enough, along the way, I encountered another troubled soul, a dishevelled individual loudly ranting and raving at the side of the street at everyone and no one in particular.

Much of the discussion about the escalating problem in Southport revolves around homelessness. I think that's a mistake. The real enemy here is ice.

Homelessness is certainly a problem, and the problems of ice and homelessness are often intertwined. It stands to reason that a serious ice addiction could be a ticket to life on the streets.

But not every homeless person, by any stretch of the imagination, is an ice addict. Homelessness can happen because a marriage or business fails, because a bread winner had passed away, because of a forced redundancy.

Not all homeless people are at all like the very troubled individuals witnessed in Southport daily. The issues of homelessness, and serious drug addiction, are often quite different and require different responses.

Ice addiction is the most difficult of all to tackle. No city in Australia has been able to tame it.

The daily scene risks deterring people from visiting businesses in Southport. Picture: Dale Anderson.
The daily scene risks deterring people from visiting businesses in Southport. Picture: Dale Anderson.

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But a good first step, for the benefit of all involved, would surely be to create specialist centres to treat the sort of characters I and others have seen in Southport in recent weeks.

The government of Western Australia, following the publication of a Methamphetamine Action Taskforce report, is seriously considering building crisis accommodation centres where the worst users would be compulsorily detained.

It's a controversial idea, for obvious reasons. There would be a serious cost to the state in setting up such centres, although there is a strong argument that the state already bears such costs - including significant security bills - when they treat addicts in public hospitals or transport them in ambulances.

Even more seriously, as WA Health Minister Roger Cook remarked, "The decision to actually enable a government to detain someone against their will is a step that we can't take lightly".

Against that, these people most clearly need help. And a tourist town like the Gold Coast could definitely do without them wandering our streets, roaring and shouting.

The fellow I witnessed who lay down in the middle of the road to block traffic in Southport was issuing a very public cry for help. He and others like him should get it, for all our sakes. The only question is how best it is delivered.



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