Empowered Communities manager slams agencies over ‘entirely preventable’ Broome sobering up centre closure

Yaron FisherBroome Advertiser
Broome's Walangari Shelter sobering up centre.
Camera IconBroome's Walangari Shelter sobering up centre. Credit: Broome Advertiser

Members of the community are justifiably shocked by the announcement that the Broome Sobering-Up Centre will be closed indefinitely due to the building being declared unsafe for use.

The Mental Health Commission, which funds the service, has been unable to find a suitable replacement facility and is now considering an alternative method of service delivery.

SUCs emerged in response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, with the Broome SUC established in 1999.

A 2019 Review of SUCs in Western Australia by Nous Group found that SUCs are a crucial harm-minimisation service for vulnerable people who need a safe place to spend the night, in communities where there are few, if any, alternatives.

Without SUCs, vulnerable intoxicated individuals are more likely to be in one of four undesirable situations: in the emergency department, committing crime, experiencing domestic violence, or sleeping rough.

The SUC review found that out of the nine SUCs currently operating in Western Australia, the Broome SUC had the third highest number of individual clients admitted per year after Perth and Derby.

The review also found that over 85 per cent of Broome’s SUC clients access the facility less than five times a year and that the well-utilised service delivers value for money.

The indefinite closure of the Broome SUC was entirely preventable.

Effective contract management by the Mental Health Commission should have highlighted the need for a substitute facility or alternative service long ago.

The most recent building assessment, which found issues with asbestos and termites, was conducted in February 2020 – more than 20 months ago.

The messy closure of the Geraldton SUC in 2017 underscores the need for authentic community engagement well before an SUC is told to shut its doors, even if only temporarily.

The Shire of Broome, while stressing the need for the SUC and decrying its closure, should examine its own failure of leadership and responsibility in this area.

If the SUC is as critical a community facility as the Shire claims, why has it not sought to invest in renovating the facility or building a suitable replacement?

The Shire contributed significant funds towards the $29.3 million Chinatown Revitalisation project and has already committed over $1 million to the $36.5 million Cable Beach Foreshore Redevelopment project.

Are nicer carparks, fancier footpaths and flashy public art more important than looking after Broome’s most vulnerable?

Dollars speak louder than words.

  • Yaron Fisher is the strategy and operations manager at West Kimberley Futures – Empowered Communities.

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