Friendly face for mean streets

A State grant was been provided for the finishing touches to Hemmings Street shopping strip''s updrade. 211455_02 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A $100,000 State grant to complete Hemmings Street shopping strip’s upgrade is the latest step towards solving the entrenched crime spot.

Meanwhile the State Government has been attacked for failing to reveal its police patrol and rooming house inspection regime in the precinct.

Under a Covid-stimulus fund, the final stage 4 works in the shopping street will build a “landscaped parklet” and other landscaping.

Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams said the improvements will encourage locals to use the “important community space”.

“In doing so (it will) create a safer area for local residents.”

Ms Williams is convening a meeting of several Government ministries, Victoria Police and Greater Dandenong Council on the area’s persistent anti-social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse and street prostitution.

She says she’s seeking a “long-term” collaborative approach from agencies.

Greater Dandenong Council has drafted an action plan, including a CCTV mobile trailer and variable message signs to deter crime.

It would also install public artwork to rejuvenate the area, encourage Neighbourhood Watch activity and seek a perceptions-of-crime research partnership with Deakin University.

But the council has no budgeted funds for the initiative.

A council report tabled on 14 September stated that a lower “perception of safety” in the precinct was “disproportionate” to the “minimal levels” of reported crime.

Cr Matthew Kirwan noted that lower crime rates in Dandenong hid the problems in “hot spots” like the Dandenong West precinct.

Meanwhile, Liberal Upper House MP Gordon Rich-Phillips had tabled questions in Parliament on patrol and inspection numbers in the area bounded by Jones Road, Railway Parade, Robinson Street and Princes Highway.

He received a non-answer from Consumer Affairs Minister Melissa Horne that inspectors aimed to prioritise the “highest risk rooming houses”.

Police Minister Lisa Neville replied that the numbers and routes would not be disclosed due to being a Victoria Police “operational matter”.

“The Andrews’ Labor Government has failed to address the underlying issues that continue to plague the Hemmings Street precinct area in Dandenong,” Mr Rich-Phillips said.

“It is time this government is held accountable for their mismanagement. Residents of Dandenong deserve better.”

There will be no “band-aids” in fixing of a complex, entrenched crime hot-spot in ‘inner’ Dandenong West, says Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams.

Ms Williams, after meeting with Greater Dandenong mayor Jim Memeti on 4 September, said “strategic, long-term thinking” was required for the area bordered by Robinson, Hemmings and Pickett streets and Railway Parade.

She will be seeking a meeting of several Government ministries, Victoria Police and Greater Dandenong Council.

The meeting will discuss “short and long term options to boost community safety” and for “better outcomes for local residents”.

“I don’t want to simply band-aid over complex issues that require thoughtful, long-term policy interventions across multiple levels of government and agencies,” Ms Williams said.

“We owe it to our community to work collaboratively in their best interests.”

A multi-agency approach had been called for in a notice-of-motion by councillor Maria Sampey in June.

She said at the time that “fearful” residents were wanting out from the area, blighted by crime, street prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse and anti-social behaviour.

One issue was to better engage with residents “who currently feel ignored”, her motion’s preamble stated.

Cr Memeti told Star Journal the council had applied for a $495,000 infrastructure grant for the area, which would be bolstered by a letter-of-support from Ms Williams.

The grant would cover items such as mobile CCTV, variable message signs, as well as public artwork to rejuvenate the area, Cr Memeti said.

Council officers had started collecting hard rubbish from the area’s streets on a daily basis, he said.

“We want to give the area a council presence. We acknowledge there’s a problem there.”

In June, Cr Matthew Kirwan said the area should be a “fantastic place to live” given it was within walking distance of the library, market and train station.

A “one-off” police blitz in 2019 suppressed the issues for only a few months, but won’t solve entrenched social issues such as poverty, homelessness, squats and poorly-managed rooming houses and a lack of safe and affordable community housing.

“Most of these are State Government issues so we need them to take the lead.

“We’re finally coming to the point that we need a plan to deal with this, not just with a one-off police blitz.”

In June, a Victoria Police spokesperson said the precinct was a “busy area” but there had been no increase in reported crimes or calls for assistance.

Police conducted regular proactive patrols in Greater Dandenong including the precinct in question as part of the ongoing Operation Tidal, the spokesperson said.

“We are aware this is a busy area, particularly given the proximity to the Dandenong CBD, and task our officers to patrol accordingly.”


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