THE Council has approved a homeless men’s hostel amid allegations legal shortcomings have allowed convicted sex offenders to stay at the facility.
But operators, St Vincent de Paul Society said they would never knowingly house such a person and have questioned the claim, made by an anonymous third party.
Councillors approved permanent use of the 39-bed Market St facility six votes to three at their meeting on Wednesday.
The decision, which followed a twoyear trial, drew keen interest from a packed gallery and speakers for and against.
But Something Special gift store owner Janarie Micallef dropped a bombshell during open forum.
She told councillors an anonymous person, who had clear knowledge of the system, had contacted her on Tuesday.
“This person claimed that child sex offenders and sex offenders have stayed at Kennedy House in the past and that these men come and go frequently,” she said.
“The reason they stay there is that they are not registered on the sex offenders register.”
Mrs Micallef and husband Rob discovered that under the Child Protection Act (2000), if a person was convicted of a sex offence before October 15 2001, they did not have to be registered.
“In which case, sex offenders could be residing at Kennedy House undetected,” Mrs Micallef said.
“…My question to Council is how can the community be 100 per cent sure that sex offenders do not reside here, opposite a park, where there are public toilets…? She said the woman would not reveal her identity due to “the position she held” and the risk to her family.
Mrs Micallef told the meeting she was just as disturbed as councillors that the allegation had not been raised earlier.
But she felt a strong obligation to make it public.
The couple originally supported the hostel but have since strongly opposed it, given incidents affecting their business.
Police told a planning forum last month that they undertook regular checks on residents, including against the sex offenders register. Sex offenders are not allowed at the hostel.
Mrs Micallef highlighted St Vincent de Paul’s own submission acknowledging it did not do regular checks on residents, due to the expense.
But councillors, including Alfie Walker, who works in the welfare sector, questioned why a person apparently working in the field had not reported the matter to police or the Department of Community Services, as they were obliged under law.
“I can understand the concerns this person has but this is serious and needs to be reported,” he said.
After the meeting, Cr Kettle also questioned why the person had not made a complaint to police, using protected disclosure provisions.
He said Council’s role was to consider planning issues, not police the facility.
Cr Kettle was satisfied with police arrangements in place.
Cr Margaret O’Neill unsuccessfully moved to refuse the hostel’s permanent operation on the basis it had an “adverse impact” on nearby businesses and on Belmore Park and that the location was “unsuitable and inappropriate” for the proposed use.
It was voted down, six to three.
Instead, councillors endorsed planners’ recommendation to approve.
Cr Kirk said while antisocial issues couldn’t be ignored, they were not limited to Kennedy House. He pointed to 36,000 “man days” of accommodation provided to homeless people since it opened.
Cr Robin Saville also spoke passionately about the facility’s need, saying a “local solution was needed for a local problem”.
Kennedy House was approved conditional on a management plan, including police checks for all new residents, and formation of a community consultative committee (CCC) comprising St Vincent de Paul representatives, Council, police and members of the public.
The Society’s Canberra/Goulburn CEO Paul Trezise said yesterday he was pleased with the outcome.
He told the Post police did almost daily checks at the facility, which was a more effective process than the Society doing its own, given that 50pc of residents stayed less than a week.
“Whether a pre 2001 sex offence has given rise to someone not being checked, I don’t know but no one has ever raised that allegation with us,” he said.
“That comment is a surprise to us. If it had been raised, we certainly wouldn’t have knowingly kept someone like that there.”
‘Our brothers, our sons’
WHILE Kennedy House had its detractors at Wednesday’s Council meeting, supporters also came out in force.
Charles Sturt University lecturer, Dr Susan Robinson is based at Goulburn’s Police Academy and has a PhD in criminology and sociology.
She told the meeting Kennedy House fulfilled a vital role, not just for the disadvantaged but in the “social conscience and integrity of the Goulburn community.”
“Unfortunately homeless men don’t invoke the same sympathy as homeless children but we cannot simply dismiss them,” she said.
“They are our brothers, sons, uncles, nephews…We cannot simply walk away when people are in need.”
She cited the many reasons that can lead to homelessness and called on Council not to rely on unverified complaints of antisocial behaviour. This was especially so in public places for which Kennedy House operators should not be held responsible.
In her submission, Dr Robinson said Goulburn’s crime categories had remained stable or declined in the past five years. There was no discernible rise since Kennedy House opened.
As a person who’d fallen on hard times himself, public school teacher Dale Moore, praised Kennedy House for its work.
“It’s been volunteers and people donating clothes that have stopped me and my children going cold,” he said.
“It is very much needed.
Almost one quarter of the residents are local.”
Mr Moore said it was “an act of cowardice for a person to make anonymous complaints about sex offenders staying at Kennedy House.
Former St Vincent de Paul hostel (Verner St) manager Brian Kennedy said the Market St premises were a vast improvement on the old, which residents had to leave during the day.