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Vinnies worried about refuge violence threat to staff

The potential threat of violence against staff by homeless people suffering from mental illness and/or drug and alcohol problems may force the closure later this year of many of the 35 homeless centres run by the St Vincent de Paul Society in NSW.

The threat of closure, or greatly increased running costs, comes because new occupational health and safety legislation will make it virtually illegal to have only one staff member on at night in these centres.

The Catholic Weekly reports that up to 400 centres run by other religious and charitable organisations are facing the same problem.

"This is a disaster waiting to happen," said Greg Hogan, homeless persons services co-ordinator for the NSW-ACT State council of the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

The new legislation, which places much greater onus on the duty of care for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees, will come into effect for the homelessness sector in September.

Under the new rules, having only one employee on at night in a homeless centre may not be regarded as fulfilling the required duty of care.

Mr Hogan says the major difficulty is that many accommodation services for the homeless are not funded to provide a sufficient amount of staff.

"Most of St Vincent's smaller centres have only one staff member on overnight, but there can be up to 18 or 20 beds," he said. "The staff end up in some pretty tricky situations."

Catholic Weekly

Vinnies NSW/ACT
Vinnies Sydney (currently offline)
New Workplace Safety Laws (NSW WorkCover)

16 Jul 2003