Church garden used as drug den

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 12:58 03/04/2014
Mark Brady
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
CONCERNED: Reverend Simon Martin outside All Saints Church in Vanguard St. The church has been suffering damage to its property, including people cutting sections of hose to smoke legal highs.
Mark Brady
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
SELLS LEGAL HIGHS: An adult shop close to the church.

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Groups of young men have been using the garden behind a Nelson church as a hideaway to drink alcohol and smoke legal highs.

Simon Martin, vicar at Vanguard St's All Saints Anglican Church, said the church had a largely harmonious relationship with Nelson's street community.

However, he was having problems with a new group of troublemakers aged 18-25 who had established the church's backyard as their territory since January.

All Saints is based on a large site near the Men's Night Shelter and an adult shop named Be.....

Several buildings form a small backyard, which is next to the church's creche. Martin said the church was equipped with one-way glass so people gathering in the yard outside would not be aware that they were being seen.

He said the young men's self-destructive behaviour was "frustrating". It was also problematic for members of Alcoholics Anonymous, who had to watch them consuming alcohol in close proximity to their regular meetings at the church.

The struggling older men who sought food from Loaves and Fishes outreach programme were also unhappy with the presence of "young men with mind-altering substances", said Martin

"We're trying to make this place a safe place for those who are vulnerable and by having the consumption of legal highs and more alcohol consumed in this area, it's not the direction we want to see this going."

Martin said the young men caused further problems for the church by hacking off sections of a hosepipe kept in the backyard. The hose is used to water vegetable gardens planted by Loaves and Fishes attendees, and Martin thought the missing sections had been turned into smoking devices.

He said the young men were congregating in "increasing numbers" and visiting at irregular times during the day and night.

"It's a nice little place if you want to conduct some illicit behaviours. They're using our facility as a secret little place to hide away."

Martin said he knew illegal drugs were dealt in the yard, but his primary concern was the consumption of legal highs. He said the troublemakers were buying their legal highs from Be.... and then coming onto the church's property to take them.

"They're on our property, they're taking what's not theirs, but it's part of this change we've noticed in this part of the city and we're concerned."

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He said he had spoken to the men themselves without success, and had been approached by nearby businesses who shared his feelings about the situation. His next step would be to approach the police.

A Nelson police spokeswoman said police were unaware of the issue and it had not been reported.

Be.... managing director Kathy Hemi said she had been stocking legal highs for more than four years, but "never made a big deal of it". She said she did not advertise the products and kept them behind the counter, only noticing an increase in sales recently.

"When the dairies stopped selling it, they thought they would come get [legal highs] from us."

Signs plastered across the counter and store entrance reinforced Hemi's statement that she was "very picky" about ID. She said if people lingered around the shop or its vicinity, she made sure to move them on, and said her regular clientele for legal highs did not sound like the group that was troubling Martin.

"Most of ours are 30 plus. They're working, everyday Joe Blows."

She said she would remain in contact with Martin and try to figure out a solution. Ceasing to sell legal highs was "under discussion", she said.

- Nelson

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