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The youth shelter in Alice Springs strives to keep children safe all night long




A 24-hour drop-in center in Alice Springs that offers young people a place to hang out safely at night could be “just what the community needs”, according to the manager of a youth service in the city.

Already serving as a day center, the Youth Outreach and Re-engagement Team Hub has extended its opening hours on Friday and Saturday nights as part of a pilot funded by the Northern Territory government.

“The community is concerned about children walking around at night, so this could alleviate the community’s concerns and provide a place the children want to go,” said Blair McFarland, general manager of Central Australia Youth Link-Up Service .

“It could be a win-win.”

Two other facilities are already operating at night, but both the Brown Street Youth Center and the Gap Youth and Community Center close before midnight.

Blair McFarland wears a blue flannel shirt for a house and garden in Alice Springs.
Blair McFarland, who runs the Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service, says the extended hours will benefit the local youth.(ABC News: Melissa Mackay)

Youth counselors patrol the Alice Springs CBD until 3am, with buses taking the kids home when they are picked up on the street.

But Mr. McFarland said some young people were not living in ideal conditions, so they took to the streets at night.

“A lot of these kids come from really crowded houses, where there is often no air conditioning, so even a place with electricity is a big leap forward for them,” he said.

Located at the base of Anzac Hill in the city’s CBD, the 24-hour center is equipped with televisions, sofas, table tennis and a drum kit.

“Some kids even talk about being scared on the street, they are on the street, but they are scared because other gangs want to fight them,” McFarland said.

If the trial proves to be effective, there are plans to expand the center’s nighttime operations to seven days a week over the Christmas holidays.

Empty benches in a youth shelter in Alice Springs, with projections of computer games on the wall.
The Youth Outreach and Re-engagement Team Hub in Alice Springs remains open all night on Fridays and Saturdays.(ABC News: Melissa Mackay)

Territory Families Minister Kate Worden said the facility would not have sleeping accommodation for children.

“We do not offer a hiding place, this is not a hiding place, people in hiding are not a recommended outcome,” said Ms Worden.

“Most importantly, our young people have a safe place to sleep at night.

“If a safe place has not been identified for those children, a child protection notice is the appropriate next step.”

Two table tennis rackets and a ball lying on a blue table in a room.
The center has televisions, couches, table tennis and a drum set.(ABC News: Melissa Mackay)

Araluen independent member Robyn Lambley, who pushed for a youth curfew in Alice Springs during her election campaign this year, said the center’s extended opening hours were a step forward.

“We are still trying to fight a very serious problem here in Alice Springs,” said Mrs. Lambley.

“We still have a long way to go and I think this will help significantly.”

However, she said she would have preferred it if children were held in the facility at night.

“The purpose of these types of centers is first of all to get the children off the streets at night for their own safety and the safety of the community,” she said.

The Gunner’s government has repeatedly turned down calls for a city curfew.

Ms. Worden said the trial was funded from the existing budget for youth activities in Alice Springs and would be revised in January.

“We want to see a decrease in the number of young people on the street at night,” she said.

“We also want to make sure that we connect with vulnerable young people to make sure they have a safe place at night.”

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