Police reject claims of rising violence among Hutt St homeless

Adelaide city councillors are warning of a dangerous spike in violent criminal behaviour among homeless people on Hutt Street and a local business says its staff are scared to go outdoors – but police say there has been no increase in reported crime in the area.

Feb 05, 2018, updated Feb 05, 2018
Photo: Nat Rogers / InDaily

Photo: Nat Rogers / InDaily

SA Police will brief the city council on the state of public safety in the south-east of the city at a closed-doors meeting at Town Hall tomorrow evening.

The council voted at a meeting last week to liaise with police about installing more CCTV cameras in Hutt Street after South Ward councillor Alex Antic made an impassioned speech, warning there would be “blood” on councillors’ hands if they failed to respond to what he described as a serious increase in violent crime in the area.

Antic said that a woman had been stabbed and another person violently assaulted there in recent weeks.

Area councillor Anne Moran told the meeting residents and workers in the area had raised a series of complaints about violence and intimidation by groups of homeless people – mainly men – on Hutt Street.

She described the street as “dangerous” and “filthy”.

But SA Police says there has been no increase in the reporting of violent crime in the area.

“We have not experienced any recent increase in reported crime in the south-east section of the CBD,” Superintendent Craig Wall, the officer in charge of the Eastern Adelaide Local Service Area, told InDaily this morning.

“Eastern Adelaide Police regularly patrol the Hutt Street and south parklands area,” he said.

“Police also work closely with local stakeholders to address any issues in the area.

“It should be noted that homeless persons are at increased risk of becoming victims of crime due to various factors, including mental health, alcohol and substance abuse.”

Wall added that “information about a woman being stabbed is incorrect”.

He said that police had been called to the corner of Hutt Street and South Terrace, responding to reports of an assault, three weeks ago.

But an investigation showed that an intoxicated man had fallen onto a broken bottle, he said.

“A 44-year-old male victim had sustained an injury to the back,” said Wall.

“Following investigation, it was revealed the intoxicated man had fallen onto a broken bottle and sustained a laceration.

“His injury was not life-threatening and he was taken by ambulance to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.”

Bici Espresso is located directly opposite Hutt Street Centre, which provides food and a variety of services to people experiencing homelessness in and around the CBD.

The café’s manager Alishia Freeman told InDaily people who use Hutt Street Centre had been harassing her staff and customers.

“They do get quite aggressive,” she said.

“They come into our toilets all the time when we tell them ‘no’.

“They have stolen our outdoor furniture … they’ve peed on our doors.

“Things have been smashed. They’ve tried to break into the van.”

She said female staff members had been heckled while putting out furniture in the mornings and customers were discouraged from sitting outside.

“Our customers don’t want to sit outside … because they’re being heckled,” she said.

“We (staff at the café) always walk each other to our cars.”

She added that the problems mainly occurred when Hutt Street Centre was closed.

“It’s when the doors are locked,” she said.

Hutt Street Centre’s day centre facility is open between 7am and 1pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 11am on Sunday and public holidays.

The organisation’s manager of development and partnerships, Mike Francis, told InDaily Hutt Street Centre was not aware of any increase in violent crime among its clientele.

“We’re not seeing that, but that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong,” he said.

“It does seem that most of the issues are happening when we’re not open.”

He said the centre would love to have the resources to be able to stay open longer and this might reduce antisocial behaviour.

“We’re stretched (in terms of) funding and can only really open the hours we do.

“We’d love to get more funding and support so that we could increase our hours and increase our services.

“Maybe that’s a potential solution, and a smart one, at that.”

Asked whether he supported the installation of extra CCTV in the street, Francis said Hutt Street Centre didn’t have a view one way or the other, but that it would support anything that experts believed would improve safety.

Moran told InDaily this morning that there had been a “sudden, rapid increase” in the frequency of complaints from residents and business operators about anti-social behaviour on Hutt Street, sent by email to Antic – who did not respond to requests for comment today.

She said she attended a community meeting at Bici Espresso a fortnight ago where residents and business operators had expressed concerns about rising levels of anti-social behaviour, and that Antic had received about two complaints per week in recent times.

“The complaints have increased in urgency and number,” she said.

“A couple a week – which is an unusual spike.

“It’s not fair on the residents – it’s also not fair on the people not being looked after.”

She added that a female staff member at a Hutt Street café had complained that she needed her father to pick her up from work because she was scared to walk the street alone.

Asked whether council staff were aware of any evidence of a recent increase in violent crime on Hutt Street, the council’s director for community Clare Mockler told InDaily: “No.”

“This location-specific data is not available to (the) council,” she said.

“As the lead agency responsible for public safety, SAPOL is best-placed to talk to the relative safety of particular areas of the city.”

The council’s associate director for community and culture, Sean McNamara, told last week’s meeting that a “CCTV Strategic Group” maintained a list of areas in the CBD that are prioritised for the future installation of CCTV cameras – and that Hutt Street was not at the top of that list.

The administration was unable to provide a copy of the list this morning, which Mockler said was “owned” by SA Police.

Moran accused council staff of having “some real reticence” about recognising that there was an increase in criminal activity in the area.

“Our evidence is the people that live and work there,” said Moran.

“Sometimes the residents are just bunkered down and not reporting it.

“I don’t know why the stats weren’t there.”

She conceded, though, that “I’m sure there are worse areas” than Hutt Street for antisocial behaviour in the city.

The Hutt Street Centre’s Francis urged locals to contact SA Police if they ever have concerns about violent behaviour.

Wall also urged anyone experiencing crime or antisocial behaviour to call the police assistance line on 131 444.

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