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Controlled Drinking Zones

May 21 2009
CDZs give sweeping powers to the police to arrest anyone who is drinking in a public place As reported in last issue ('Alcohol ban in Camden'), there is currently a push to increase Controlled Drinking Zones (CDZ) in many London boroughs. And the importance of these moves is two-fold: they give the sweeping powers to the police to arrest anyone who is drinking in a public place, confiscate their alcohol and move them on. And, interestingly, they don't appear to be made to target Saturday night revellers, someone standing outside a Soho bar or sitting in a park drinking wine out of a cooler bag. They're aimed predominantly at the disenfranchised, unemployed, homeless street drinkers and people with chronic alcohol dependency problems. For some, drinking is a lifestyle choice and for others it is a way to relieve boredom and loneliness. I am aware that people drinking in groups in public can leave some people feeling intimidated, scared, angry and frustrated. But personally, I feel more intimidated by aggressive and loud young men and women drinking after work in their suits. Groups of impoverished street drinkers meet together for succour and companionship, and pose little threat most of the time. They are members of the community too, but have become soft targets for council officials seeking to up their political game. Street drinkers are being moved on to show the council is "doing something" to assuage public fears about antisocial behaviour rather than tackling the root of the problem. While alcohol treatment can be used as an "olive branch" to keep the peace in the community, severe under-funding in services can mean this is often not delivered. Many street drinkers will just end up being moved on, and thus lost to the system. At the rate that people are being moved, it wouldn't surprise me if some of London's street drinkers ended up on a beach in John O'Groats, huddled together waiting for a passing outreach team from Greenland to pick them up and take them out to the arctic wastes. I have seen cases where street drinkers turn up in other boroughs after being thrown off their patch and not being able to access services because they don't have a local connection. It's also difficult for outreach workers to coordinate care for people when no one borough will take responsibility for them. As an outreach worker, some of the people I meet on the street see me as part of a system that's out to hound them rather than help them. This makes talking to them much harder. What's needed is a strategy that responds to alcoholics' needs, not reacts to them. We need to stop getting people off the streets at any costs, pressuring them to change in the name of a 'strategy.' You may be able to get people to comply, but whether or not they are going change is another matter. Changing people's perceived antisocial behaviour takes time and experience. What is also needed is proper research into the living conditions of street drinkers living in unsupported local authority or housing association properties so we can better understand what drives them out onto the streets in the first place.
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