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Tuesday, 28 February 2023 08:09

Faith communities join together in responding to Alice Springs youth crisis

Alice Springs youth crime crackdown 450Faith communities in Alice Springs are working together with local elders to respond in practical and spiritual ways to the growing youth street crime crisis in the Central Australian city.

Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish, Fr Prakash Menezes SVD, says the first step in responding to the situation is to understand the deep-seated social issues at play.

Fr Prakash, together with Fr Alfonsus Nahak SVD of the Arrernte Catholic Chaplaincy, Darwin Bishop Charles Gauci and SVD seminarian Shehan Fernando, attended a meeting with the local Uniting Church pastors and Moderator for the Northern Territory Synod of the Uniting Church last week in which they talked about the situation. The Alice Springs Ministers’ Fraternal will meet this week to find ways for faith communities to work together.

“At the meeting with the Uniting Church we talked about the reality of why these things are happening on the streets and it’s because children are not feeling safe in their homes,” he said.

“They are also bored, with nothing to do, no activities for them.

“But this is just surface-level. Deep down, this problem didn’t start today or yesterday, it’s been brewing for at least the last 20 years and what we are seeing today is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the actual problem.”

The faith communities response comes as alcohol bans have been brought in for many areas around Alice Springs in a bid to curb violence and property crime.

The latest police statistics show a dramatic spike in crime between 2021 and 2022. Assaults went up 51 per cent in one calendar year, with 2823 reported in a town of 26,000. Domestic violence-related assaults spiked even higher, up 65 per cent. Alcohol-related assaults were up 68 per cent. There were 1886 reported instances of domestic violence, and 1521 assaults related to alcohol. Property damage was up 55 per cent, and commercial break-ins were up 47 per cent.

Fr Prakash said the faith leaders felt that at the core of the problem was the question of identity.

“These young people are struggling to identify who they are and to name that,” he said. “There is also a spiritual vacuum and identity is also connected to this.

Alice Springs parish community 350“We felt that as a church community, we can respond to that and walk with the young people.”

Fr Olivier Noclam SVD of the Arrernte Catholic Chaplaincy, said that any response must include Aboriginal community leaders and focus on the family.

“One of the main things happening is the breakdown of the family,” he said. “Families are totally broken and that is the root of the problem.

“For these kids, there is no-one they can look up to, with the father often drinking, there is family violence and the housing situation means that the houses are very crowded, so it’s no wonder the kids leave the house at night.”

Fr Ollie said the burden of living with racism is also a part of the story for Aboriginal Australians in Alice Springs.

“Being an Aboriginal person here in Alice Springs is quite a hard situation,” he said. “They are treated differently every day and I know this, because many people here think I am an Aboriginal person and I experience that racism.

Oliver Noclam SVD in Alice Springs 550“When you are discriminated against every day, it builds up and sometimes, as we see, it explodes.

“So, the situation is very complicated, but lots of organisations are trying to help, including the churches.”

Fr Prakash said one outcome of the churches meeting was a decision to form a faith communities’ taskforce to look at the possibility of re-starting a drop-in centre for young people, which had operated about a decade ago from the Uniting Church hall in the middle of Alice Springs’ main mall.

“Volunteers provided games and snacks and supervision, but then opposition grew towards it because it was located in the centre of town and the centre had to be closed,” he said.

“So, we asked, ‘Do we want to re-start that program and if so, how?’ It is something we will continue to discuss with the Ministers’ Fraternal and see if we could implement something.

“That will address our first aim, which is to get the young people off the street, but the second thing and the more challenging thing is to ask how we can provide ongoing support to families.

“We have to ask why the children are not feeling safe at home anymore and continue to have those conversations with families.

“And of course, this taskforce will operate together with our Arrernte elders in our faith communities, walking with them and talking with them and working together.”

Fr Prakash said that during a recent visit to Alice Springs, Bishop Gauci had held a conversation with the Arrernte elders at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart to ask them how the Church could help support families and young people.

“One thing we recognise is that the response can’t just be a one-size-fits-all,” Fr Prakash said.

“There is so much history that has brought the community to the point we are at today and we have to also recognise that the Church has been a part of that history, so we have to see that history and try not to repeat it, but to work together towards more positive outcomes.”


TOP RIGHT: Fr Prakash Menezes SVD, Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish in Alice Springs, with Fr Olivier Noclam SVD of the Arrernte Catholic Chaplaincy and Darwin Bishop Charles Gauci are working with Arrernte elders to help address the growing crisis in youth behaviour and to support families. (File photo)

MIDDLE LEFT: A group of parishioners from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish. Faith communities in Alice Springs are working together to respond in practical and spiritual ways to the crisis. (File photo)

BOTTOM RIGHT: Fr Ollie, (pictured with joey) believes that supporting families is one of the keys to addressing the youth issues in Alice Springs. (File photo)

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In the spirit of reconciliation, the Society of the Divine Word, Australia Province, acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea, sky, and community.

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