Just metres from a primary school, a man drifts in and out of consciousness as he lies splayed out the side of a Melbourne road.
It’s not clear how he ended up dozing behind a parked Mazda hatchback, but the unfazed expressions on the faces of those passing by suggest the scene is nothing new.
As minutes pass, pedestrians sneak a glance at the man while drivers slow down to also take a peak.
His head is only inches away from oncoming traffic. Despite that, not a single person approached him to see if he was OK.
A man drifts in and out of consciousness in Richmond on Tuesday. Picture: news.com.auSecurity from the MSIR come minutes later to the man’s aid. Picture: news.com.au
Richmond may be one of Melbourne’s busiest suburbs, but nestled among the main roads and bustling cafes is an area that is so quiet you can almost hear a pin drop.
On the 2km stretch of Lennox Street on Tuesday afternoon, the atmosphere changed from a swarming suburban shopping strip to a deserted row of isolated shops and empty playgrounds.
The energy started to shift when I approached the Richmond safe injecting room.
Pedestrians appeared to be more cautious while crossing to the other side of the road and I quickly came to realise why.
Another man who looked to be aged in his late 20s was wandering chaotically out the front of some townhouses in just a T-shirt and his underwear.
His pacing and mumbling suggested he was in need of medical help. But again, he was simply ignored.
About a dozen people lingered outside the community healthy facility. Picture: news.com.au
Despite the warm afternoon sun, playgrounds on Lennox Street were abandoned while one man groaned as he limped through the parkland.
A woman was also heard wailing — her cries appeared to come from a nearby high-rise housing commission building which towered over the health centre and its surrounding gardens.
On the same day that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the controversial injecting room would become a permanent fixture, more disorderly men and women were observed trying to walk in a straight line and feeding pigeons.
The shocking scenes came as children from neighbouring Richmond West Primary School enjoyed their lunch break. The laughter came from inside 2m-high cyclone fencing that surrounded the schoolyard.
To locals, these scenes at Australia’s most frequented heroin hotspot come as a regular occurrence with many unperturbed about the events happening around them.
A two-metre high fence surrounds West Richmond Primary School. Picture: news.com.au
Richmond’s medically supervised injecting room here to stay
Earlier that day, Mr Andrews announced the state’s MSIR will become an ongoing service after an independent review found it has saved 63 lives during its trial period.
Critical support services will be expanded to further boost safety.
The decision comes after data found the site successfully managed almost 6000 overdoses, easing pressures on local hospitals and decreasing the number of ambulance call outs.
But despite the government seeing the injection room as a successful measure to take heroin addicts off the streets, locals say it’s done the complete opposite.
One man who lives across the street from injecting room said despite the public’s pleas to have it removed or set up elsewhere, the trial felt like a “done deal from day one”.
“It’s already been five years, it kind of already feels like it was a permanent thing. It never really felt like it was a trial,” he told news.com.au.
Not even the local pub appeared busy, situated along the shopping strip opposite the MSIR. Picture: news.com.au
When asked about whether the site reduced the number of needles on the streets, the local resident said no.
“It’s not a reduction, it’s the opposite. There’s more people around … and there’s still heaps of needles lying around now,” he said.
“They obviously have their people that walk around and collect them but I think the problem is they don’t record the stats of how many they pick up in the gutter.”
There were no syringes on the ground where I was walking but other media outlets reported finding dozens of needles both on the streets and in alleyways.
It’s understood a maintenance worker had picked these up after reporters captured the scenes, with one worker doing the rounds while I was in the area.
But despite the facility bringing more drug-affected people to the suburb, the local resident who has lived in Richmond for seven years said he still felt safe.
“I live with two girls most of the time, one who used to work at the pub and walk home at two in the morning every day and was always like ‘yeah whatever’,” he said.
“It’s heroin, not ice, so they kind of fall asleep and pass out, they don’t go crazy.”
A syringe cap littered on the side of a footpath. Picture: news.com.au
‘They fight and steal’
The owner of a milk bar opposite the facility would beg to differ, telling news.com.au there’s times where people from the facility end up in his store acting “delusional”.
“They gather in groups and fight. They steal. I give them water sometimes because they don’t have anything to drink,” he said.
The man who was lying on the road on Tuesday was right outside the entrance of the milk bar.
“These things happen all the time, no one comes except security who take them back inside to get checked out,” he said.
Other residents told media they’ve been left “baffled” and “devastated” by the Andrews government’s decision to make the facility an ongoing service, particularly next door to a primary school.
One of several high-rise housing commission buildings located near the facility. Picture: news.com.au
Sharon, a North Richmond local, told 3AW she’s lost faith in all sides of government.
“(Daniel Andrews) did not consider the children at all in his statement … he will continue to sacrifice the children and the community of North Richmond,” she said.
“The opposition have been disappointing, where are the people that care about the children?”
She argued distressed residents were “not the enemy”, they just wanted their concerns to be heard.
“We are not against the room, we support the room. It does save lives, but it can save lives anywhere other than next to a school,” she said.
Another caller told the station she wanted to see more statistics regarding the number of people who have overdosed on the streets.
“Now these numbers of saving people in the safe injecting room are one thing, but I’d like to see the numbers of how many people have been saved (and) how many people have died in the streets surrounding the safe injecting room,” she said.
“It would be so much more than the people being saved at the safe injecting room.”
The Victorian government is working on a new housing project just a block away from the MSIR. Picture: news.com.au
A block down from the community health centre, a government housing initiative is slowly underway.
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“More homes for more Victorians,” the sign reads. “We are creating a safe and connected community at North Richmond.”
Locals see things very differently.
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