In the gutter


Traders call for a clean sweep after flashing, vomiting, urinating and bottle fights…

A REGULAR flock of public drinkers, undeterred by police attention, have been infuriating Palm Plaza traders in Dandenong for months.
The group lingers most days outside Palm Plaza Meeting Room – home to a public toilet and a venue for kids’ ballet classes and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Traders say the site, just 50 metres from the Pillars of Freedom war memorial, has been tarnished by unedifying scenes of daylight vomiting, skirmishes using bottles, urination and indecent exposure.
Reportedly, one of the drinkers has been regularly treated by paramedics after passing out in the street.
The Journal spoke to several nearby traders who were fed up with what they say is a continual flouting of the law.
One proprietor, who didn’t wish to be named, said he had been ringing police daily to move the group on since they settled in for daytime drink sessions last summer.
He called for more regular police foot patrols to deter the drinkers.
“We’ve had all this money poured into making the main street look great. People have to walk past a guy who’s passed out in front of them or walk over someone to go to the toilet.”
Arrests have been made during the most unruly days but the trader said the drinkers seemed to avoid detection by hiding their bottles in backpacks or sipping their alcohol from soft drink bottles.
“Police cuffed a guy for exposing himself and he was back the next day. No fear, no shame,” a trader said.
“It’s like the outlaws have more say than the ratepayers. We’re the ones who suffer the consequences.”
Senior Sergeant Lisa Keigte of Greater Dandenong police has advised shopkeepers to call triple zero straight away.
She said the drinkers could potentially be charged with disorderly conduct, but for “drug-taking activity” there needed to be clear evidence.
“We’re aware of it and will take steps against drunks and drug-affected people. It affects people coming to the area to shop.
“It has to be a consistent response – as long as we’re aware of it and the public is willing to report it in.”
Greg, Raymond and Muzz, who are among the regular drinkers, told the Journal last week that most of the time they sit and drink quietly. Any problems came from “blow-ins”.
They had a laugh at their associate Tony rolling around in noontime slumber on a nearby bench, with a half-drunk wine bottle next to him. And at Raymond, whose unintelligible slurring prompted jokes about him not handling his liquor.
“He’ll be right,” said Muzz – who looks after his mum and drinks nearly three bottles of port in a sitting.
Greg, 45, said they couldn’t drink at a pub because it was too expensive, nor drink at home because it was not social enough.
“We have a tight network of people here,” Greg said.
“We live in each other’s pockets and help each other out.”
The group conceded they had some concerns about their health. Greg, a recovered heroin addict, said he’d tried to detox from alcohol twice.
“There’s (liquor) outlets on every corner. (At one of the outlets) I can get a two-litre bottle of apple whiskey for $3.”
He said he was concerned for one homeless “brain-damaged” colleague, who he estimates owes $60,000 in fines for public drunkenness and is currently in remand to “help him detox”.
“When you’re homeless, your only comfort is a cask of wine.”
They said that they sometimes get moved on by police but believed they were allowed to drink in the mall as long as they weren’t too loud or bothersome.
A Greater Dandenong Council spokeswoman said council officers did not have powers to act against public drinkers.
“Our local laws officers are down there nearly every day. We ask them to move on.
“All we can do is notify police that they need to do something about it.”