Residents fight house for homeless drunks

BY BRITTON BROUN
Last updated 05:00 29/09/2009

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Residents fighting a proposed "wet house" for alcoholic vagrants in Island Bay have accused Wellington City Council of trying to clear the homeless out of the central city.

The council has offered $500,000 over two years to set up the country's first wet house in Ribble St. The building – a former halfway house for mental patients that is owned by Housing New Zealand – would house about eight alcoholics, allowing them to continue drinking but offering 24-hour care.

The newly established Te Whare Oki Oki Trust, which will run the house, indicated Ribble St was its preferred site and it hoped it could be running before Christmas.

Although the wider Island Bay community was divided on the wet house, people in Ribble St and surrounding streets were unanimously opposed.

Supporters of the wet house argued that the people living there would be low-risk and tended to be the victims of assaults rather than the instigators of them. There would also be at least two staff at the house at all times, and access to medical and counselling services.

But a council report in 2007 warned that the homeless had a "high-risk lifestyle and complex needs; some are a threat to both themselves and other members of the community". It also recommended that the building have "minimal neighbour contact" and be within walking distance of the city centre.

Robyn McLean, who lives in an adjoining street, said residents were horrified at having drunk people, and their visitors, in an area full of children and the elderly. "The fact is that the council are going to fund a house that will be located in an area that their recommendations go against. It's madness ... no one's undertaken any research locally on the impact this could have."

Ribble St resident Iain Cossar said there had been enough trouble with mental patients and with another house that housed freed prisoners. "There were armed offenders crawling through people's yards ... We've had issues for over a decade and we want a break.

"[The wet house] introduces fear into what should be a safe environment ... you just don't know what you will meet when you go out on the street."

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said nothing was finalised on the Ribble St site. "Finding a location that everyone is happy with is a big challenge ... Absolutely nobody is being steamrollered on this issue."

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