Wild Square

Manna out to give residents a ‘rest’

THE free food service provided by Manna Inc will have to move out of Weld Square for a one-year trial following escalating problems.

Vincent councillors decided on the year-long break at this week’s meeting after hearing of an axe fight, a recent face-stabbing, all-night needle drug sessions and rangers fearful of entering the park on foot.

“I just moved in in January and I don’t know what hit me,” resident Hillary Capolingua told the October 20 meeting. 

“I have not slept one night throughout,” she said, as her apartment faces the carpark across from Weld Square where people congregate for lengthy sessions of drug use and shouting.

“I will not go out of my apartment after 5pm.”

Ms Capolingua said her phone was stolen “right from under me” while sitting in the park with her dog: “I was pleading with them and they just laughed”. Her bank card was with it, and the thieves took it on a spending spree.

Kevin Smythe lives opposite Weld Square and told the council” “I’ve seen the ebbs and flows at Weld Square. It’s been good, it’s been bad. At the moment, despite whatever reports you’ve received, it’s the worst it’s ever been.

“The park is dangerous from morning to night. From 11 o’clock onwards it gets worse, once the Manna van arrives.”

“I don’t want to use the park anymore,” another neighbouring resident told the Voice this week. “It’s getting really bad.

“This so-called anti-social behaviour, it’s beyond that, it’s criminal… two Sundays ago four guys were running from the park, two with an axe, covered in blood.” 

Residents have taken to calling it “Wild Square”.

State Perth Labor MP John Carey, a former Vincent mayor, attended the October 20 meeting to say Manna Inc should move to the Moore Street homeless services precinct. 

Mr Carey co-chairs the homelessness working group with Perth and Vincent councils that set up the Moore Street one-stop site to coordinate 50-odd food and other homeless services as previously there was a lot of double-up and waste.

“I’ve not come to a City of Vincent meeting in my four years as MP, but I am on this particular issue which is Manna Inc,” he said.

“What is very clear is Weld Square is no longer working, and it is not a safe space either for those who are seeking assistance or the residents nearby.”

He said the Moore Street precinct is “a safe space, [with] security, lighting, a dedicated program, and there are still slots available which Manna could operate from”.

The issue has come up every year since 2013, when Vincent council resolved to give Manna Inc one more year to operate at Weld Square before moving to a new home.

They couldn’t find one and have been getting yearly one-year renewals since. Vincent staff proposed another one-year extension, but councillors voted it down this time. 

Mayor Emma Cole said the council resolved in November 2019 that this would be the last year of Manna at Weld.

“While I support the great work Manna does, it is time for Weld Square to have a rest.”

She said there’d been an increase in camping: “We’re seeing our rangers not prepared to step foot in the park and only patrolling by car, and that’s a sign we’ve lost the balance and something is not right.” 

A September survey of 68 regular meal service attendees showed 25 were homeless, 28 were not homeless, and 15 were “sometimes homeless”. 

Ms Cole moved a motion that Manna Inc be given until December 31 to operate there, and no other goods or service provision will be permitted for one year “to allow for an assessment of the impact and safety at Weld Square”. 

The motion also requests council staff work with Manna to transition to the Moore Street Precinct or an alternative spot, and re-establishes the Safer Vincent Advisory Group (made up of WA Police, Nyoongar Outreach, Uniting WA, rangers and community members). The group previously gave regular reports and advised council on the situation at Weld Square.

Councillors backed the motion unanimously.

By DAVID BELL

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