Public Intoxication Trial begins in Castlemaine

The Public Intoxication Reform Trial is up and running in Castlemaine. In preparation for the decriminalisation of public drunkenness, a new health model is being trialled in Mount Alexander Shire and three other locations across Victoria. This marks a positive shift towards a health-based approach to managing public intoxication.

The health model seeks to divert people away from a police response and increase access to health and social services as the primary response to public intoxication. This includes outreach services, training for first responders and helping people to be transported to a safe place where they can receive support if they need it.

As part of the Mount Alexander trial, there are two service streams. A standalone Aboriginal-led response delivered by specialist Aboriginal services Bendigo & District Aboriginal Co-operative (BDAC) and the Aboriginal Community Justice Panels (ACJP). This runs alongside a general service to the Mount Alexander community, delivered by Dhelkaya Health from their Castlemaine campus.

Sue Race, CEO of Dhelkaya Health, said: “We are really proud to be part of this important trial and to be ready to offer potentially life-saving support to anyone who needs it. This trial is about minimising harm and treating intoxication as a health issue.”

As part of the trial, outreach teams will provide an ‘on the ground’ response to assess the health and wellbeing of people who are intoxicated in public and provide transport to a safe place.

Dhelkaya Health’s ‘Place of Safety’ services provide a supervised place for intoxicated people to stay while they sober up if their home or another private residence is not safe or suitable. After someone has engaged with a public intoxication service, they are offered follow-up or ongoing support to address additional health and welfare needs.

Dhelkaya Health has employed a team of two specialist staff to support and care for anyone referred to the Place of Safety to support their immediate recovery. Dhelkaya Health will also have a team of BDAC alcohol and other drugs specialist support workers co-located within Dhelkaya Community Health services at Spencely House on Dhelkaya Health’s Castlemaine campus.

Key to the trial’s success will be local partnerships between Dhelkaya Health, BDAC, ACJP, Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria. Referrals to the program come from Victoria Police or Ambulance Victoria, while BDAC and ACJP will offer support and care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Senior Sergeant Darren McQueen from Victoria Police said: “If a member of the public has concerns about someone distressed or drunk in public – it could be someone they know or a stranger – they should call triple zero (000). This will ensure we can get that person to the right place to help them sober up safely.”

Dhelkaya Health is keen to stress that the Place of Safety is not an emergency accommodation option – it’s a short-term place of safety specifically for people needing clinical oversight while they sober up from drunkenness.  All referrals to the Public Intoxication Reform Trial Project must come from Victoria Police or Ambulance Victoria.

The shift towards the decriminalisation of public drunkenness and the establishment of an alternative public health model has been informed by recommendations and advice detailed in Seeing the Clear Light of Day, a 2020 report to the Victorian Attorney-General.

Dhelkaya Health’s Public Intoxication Reform Trial is vital in ensuring the right services are available when public drunkenness is decriminalised in November 2023, and has already provided insights in terms of service design, workforce, and likely demand into the state-wide model.

Outreach teams on the ground undergo tailored training and education to ensure the safety of both the Castlemaine community, and anyone who needs help sobering up.

We continue to collaborate with Aboriginal communities, health experts and key stakeholders, to refine the new health model that promotes therapeutic and culturally safe pathways to assist people who are drunk in public.


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