Youth crime was the most discussed subject last night at the biggest public meeting held in years in Katherine.
There was only standing room at GYRACC with an estimated 300 people packing the main auditorium.
The public meeting went for more than three hours although many people had left before the end.
Youth crime was the hot topic with many people saying they feared for their personal safety and wanting to know what was being done to address the problem.
The meeting was jointly organised by Katherine Town Council and Katherine MLA Sandra Nelson.
Agency and group representatives from Katherine Police, the Department of Education, Territory Families and the Department of Housing and Community Development formed a panel to answer the questions of the residents.
No NT Government Ministers attended, as they have at other similar community forums in Darwin, Alice Springs, Palmerston and Tennant Creek.
One resident said she was a victim of youth crime in Katherine and she was now “living in fear”.
“Criminals are left to re-offend over and over,” she said.
“When will things change?”
Many other residents also asked what steps were being taken to reduce youth crime.
While there is some local support for a youth curfew, one local business owner told the meeting she was opposed to the idea.
“Youth are on the street because they can’t go home,” she said.
She said steps needed to be taken to treat the root cause, which she said comes down to parenting.
Another resident suggested a boot camp needed to be organised for parents.
One resident said she would like to see parents being held responsible for their children’s behavior and there was a need for a system which has accountability built into it.
Public housing issues and the lack of affordable housing for people visiting from remote communities was highlighted as a problem.
There was also perceived to be a problem with the lack of mental health services for youth and adults in the community.
It was pointed out during the meeting there were few youth, or youth representatives, or Indigenous leaders at the meeting.
“Mental health is swept under the rug,” one said.
With little incentive to make the move to Katherine, limited support and a plethora of issues, “mental health workers feel like they are banging their heads against the wall”, she said.
Government departments then updated the community on what they are doing and also responded to the issues brought up in the open discussion.
Education Department executive director (schools north) Susan Bowden said education was a key component to reducing youth crime rates.
The department’s 2018 focus is on increasing attendance rates to 80 per cent, she said.
With a 10 per cent rise in Indigenous student populations at Katherine High school over the past year, Ms Bowden said changes need to happen quickly to adjust to the “unusual change in demographic”.
Ms Bowden also said the department was engaging with youth to review behaviour and management programs to ensure everyone was happy at school.
Housing and Community Development Department chief executive officer, Jamie Chalker, said national homelessness average sits at 48.9 per 10,000 people, while the Indigenous rate sits considerably higher at 2082.6 per 10,000 people, and is mostly comprised of youth.
Mr Chalker said the NT has the lowest capacity to fix the problem.
In response to a comment, Mr Chalker discussed policies, such as a “red card”, implemented to reduce bad behaviour in public housing.
However, Mr Chalker said the red card comes with its own set of problems as it takes away housing options for people in need.
“Where do they go to live?” he said.
“These people are probably victims of violence or substance abuse.
“We’ve seen more success in signing people to behavior management (programs),” Mr Chalker said.
Youth Outreach Re-engagement Program Katherine team leader Peter Fletcher said the challenges for youth justice relate to much broader issues, such as exposure to trauma, negative relationships as well as substance abuse.
But, he says, with the Stars program, Operation Flinders, Headspace, and the diversion program being considered by NT police, there are restorative approaches to youth justice as options.
Commander Matthew Hollamby of Katherine Police said “crime rates in Katherine are as low as they’ve been in a long, long time.”
Commander Hollamby said there had been a shift in policing and focus was on crime prevention, changing perceptions and increasing community confidence.
Some of the ideas raised at the meeting included:
- Bringing Indigenous elders to the table.
- Increasing parent engagement.
- Engaging with the Indigenous community in a more inclusive way.
- Running a youth friendly forum and consulting youth.
- Increasing school counsellor engagement in schools.
- Increasing mental health services for men in the community, such as assisting in the launch of a mens shed.
- Upgrading sport facilities.
- Creating more events for young people.
- Closing lane ways in Katherine East, where they have become conducive to bad behaviour.
- Increasing housing in remote communities.
- Updating and fixing old public housing.
- Removing the trolley fees at Woolworths.
- Adding additional shops, community centres and youth centres to the town.
Both Mayor Fay Miller and Katherine MLA Sandra Nelson said they appreciated all the comments and suggestions made and said they were committed to taking action.