Launch of safe injecting centre renovations

South Sydney Herald, Monday, March 31, 2014

KINGS CROSS: Tuesday March 18 saw the launch of new renovations at the Sydney MSIC (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre), along with a new book detailing the history of the service. The launch was emceed by Julie McCrossin, and attended by the Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Local Member Alex Greenwich and Councillor Jenny Green, with apologies from the Hon. Anne Symonds, ex-MLC and supporter of the MSIC, who sat on the original Joint Select Committee into Safe Injecting Rooms in the late 1990s.

Launch of Sydney MSIC renovations
Dr Marianne Jauncey, John Carolan from Skope Constructions, and Tone Wheeler, architect and Director of Environa Studio

Auspiced by UnitingCare, the harm reduction service has been operating since May 2001. Clearly successful in its primary aims of reducing death and injury associated with drug overdose, the Centre is popular with the local community, and has made a clear difference on the streets of Kings Cross where public drug use and needles in the gutter used to be commonplace.

The staff at the Centre used the launch to express their gratitude to UnitingCare, and specifically to the former Executive Director, Rev. Harry Herbert. “Quite simply, the place would never have happened were it not for the unswerving support it received from Rev. Herbert”, said Dr Marianne Jauncey, the Centre’s Medical Director. “We are so grateful that he has always stood up for us, even when it wasn’t popular to do so.”

The renovations were the first building works to be done on the Centre since it opened. Originally intending to provide only one additional onsite clinic room, Environa architect Tone Wheeler noticed a two-metre-high empty ceiling floor space. Thanks to the Rev. Herbert, who originally approved the investigation of this potential additional space, and then thanks to the incoming Executive Director, Peter Worland, who found the funding, the service now boasts its first meeting room, training mezzanine, and dedicated storage space, along with the additional clinic room.

The excitement of staff was palpable, thinking of the additional services they may now be able to provide to the marginalised and often homeless people who enter their doors on a daily basis. Wound care services, additional psychiatric/mental health services, dental care services, primary health services – all sorts of improvements are now possible.

Dr Jauncey spoke of how successful the renovations had been managed, and thanked the architects, the builders, and specifically the UnitingCare building project manager, Scott Ebbutt. “Nothing was ever too hard for Scott – he listened to everything we needed, albeit sometimes with a bit of a twitch in his eye! … but would just nod, and say ‘I’ll sort it’. And, indeed, he did. The finished product is just perfect for us. We love it,” she said.

Dr Jauncey also acknowledged the perseverance of staff who took all the hurdles of working on a building site in their stride, and would cheerfully mutter, “We are nothing if not flexible”; and the clients, who were able to keep attending the service on all but three days over nearly four months of renovations. “It’s a testament to how well the whole team worked together – and part of why I love working here,” she said.

The Rev. Harry Herbert had the audience laughing at his characteristically forthright take on things. He thanked Dr Ingrid van Beek, the founding Medical Director, for her courage in standing at the helm when it opened as the first service of its kind in the English-speaking world. And he let UnitingCare know that they were lucky to have Dr Jauncey now, to take that mantel forward.

UnitingCare’s new Executive Director, Peter Worland, spoke eloquently of why this service is a flagship for UnitingCare. He quoted from a recent Sun Herald article where Dr Jauncey was interviewed, and said UnitingCare, equally, insists there is “always hope”. He pledged the ongoing support of UnitingCare.

The lively and ever entertaining Julie McCrossin emceed the launch and celebration of a service that is unique in the southern hemisphere. Dr Jauncey told the SSH: “We can only hope that people continue the public discussion about drugs, that evidence for what works is included in these conversations, and that we take away some of the emotive aspects to it and remember that we are, after all, only ever just talking about people.”

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