Richmond community members say they are sick of seeing the Richmond medically supervised injecting room (MSIR) hammered in the media and are asking people to have some compassion.
Victoria Street Drug Solutions founder Judy Ryan said she started the community group in 2016 to show support for the MSIR.
“Despite the popular narrative seen in the media, we are a community that supports the Richmond injecting room,” Ms Ryan said.
“People do not choose to have a heroin addiction. These are people with mental health issues, drug addiction issues and homelessness issues, and we should help where we can.”
Harm Reduction Victoria CEO Sione Crawford said safe injecting rooms had given Victorians a sense of community.
“MSIRs give our society a reputation for being accepting and caring for some of the most marginalised people in society,” he said.
People act like MSIRs are there to make drug use easy, but the whole aim is to save lives in the places where drug use has been happening for a long time.
Ms Ryan said the drug users were not criminals.
“They are some of the most beautiful, extraordinary human beings who have had terrible things happen in their lives,” she said.
The area had improved “significantly” since the centre opened. “We rarely see someone overdosed in the streets now. You used to turn every corner and see someone overdosing,” she said.
“Secondly, our laneways and streets are no longer crowded with multiple emergency vehicles—we couldn’t even leave our houses.
“Along with that, we no longer have the constant sound of emergency sirens all the time. It was like living in a warzone.”
During parliamentary question time on March 18, National Party MP Emma Kealy asked Health Minister Martin Foley if he stood by the placement of the injecting room.
“On Friday, Richmond West Primary School was sent into lockdown because of a person experiencing a dangerous and violent drug-induced psychosis outside the school,” Ms Kealy said.
“Yesterday, the school was again sent into lockdown when a man armed with a knife breached security and entered the school grounds.”
“This morning, families were told that students must enter via the rear gate because there was a dead body in front of the school. Does the minister stand by the decision that an injecting room next to a primary school is both safe and appropriate?”
Mr Foley told parliament that effective support services needed to be where the drug use was.
“In regard to where rehabilitation and support, and a medically supervised injecting facility, and all the wraparound services that go with it should be … it has to be where the harm is. It has to be in the services where the drug market operates,” he said.
Where the drug market operates, sadly, is in the North Richmond community … That is why the school community supports this process.
“It [MSIR] is a pathway out of that tragic circumstance.”
Ms Ryan said there the school had been affected by community drug use long before the MSIR.
“People don’t know that there was a huge issue with injecting and fatal overdoses in the car park next to the school for years—that’s why it [MSIR] was built there,” she said.
I don’t see these people as junkies. They are a part of the community, and as a compassionate community, we should be doing what we can to help them.
Ms Ryan said she was happy about the possibility of a second MSIR in the CBD, and hoped it would take some of the pressure off Richmond.
Mr Crawford said the Richmond facility was in the correct location given how many people attended the injecting room.
“[About] 200-300 people visited the MSIR every day during the last lockdown. North Richmond has long been known as a crossroads for communities and cultures, and that includes people that use drugs,” he said.