Evaluation of the Hindley Street youth project (HSYP)

Criminology Research Council grant ; (36/90)

The Hindley Street Project Centre was founded ten years ago. It is now primarily a drop-in centre for young predominantly Aboriginal people who visit in Hindley Street, Adelaide, on Friday and Saturday evenings. Because Hindley Street is generally regarded as a dangerous environment at night time, the function of the Centre is, to a large extent, to cater for the safety needs of the users; but, in addition, it provides a generic service which includes the provision of information, referral, counselling, advocacy, health care and recreation. As such, it provides a unique service in Australia. How effectively the Centre was, in fact, operating and meeting the needs of users was the subject of this enquiry.

The evaluation employed a variety of methods of data collection. These involved: direct observations of the operation of the Centre; interviews with staff, both full-time paid and voluntary; interviews with users of the Centre (48 Aboriginal youth and six non-Aboriginal); interviews with representatives from other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth agencies; interviews with police officers working in Hindley Street; and interviews with traders in Hindley Street. From these sources a composite picture of how the Centre operated was gained and also how it was perceived to operate from a variety of sources.

As a drop-in centre the Project Centre is well patronised, with numbers varying between 30 and 100, depending in part upon the season and available attractions in Adelaide at the time. Approximately 90 per cent of the users are Aboriginal, with equal numbers of males and females, ages ranging from 12 to 26 years. The mean age for those interviewed in the study was 16 years.

Although the environment in the Centre is not entirely 'safe' (some fighting and drunkenness was reported), being there was found to be considerably 'safer' than being in the street, and was widely regarded by the bulk of those interviewed from outside the Centre (staff in other youth agencies, traders and the police) as providing, in this respect, a valuable service. The quality of the health service provided at the Centre on Friday evenings was found to be generally good, but, given the health needs of this population of users, in need of extension.

Relationships between users and staff both permanent (entirely non-Aboriginal) and part-time volunteer, were, on the whole, positive but generally not close. In providing information in a number of areas*legal, employment, accommodation, social security payments*and helping in emergency situations, the Centre is clearly performing a useful function. In general, its role is passive, rather than pro-active. For example, although promoting recreational activities, games and camps is intended, these are only minimally facilitated. It was felt that the staffing of the Centre with at least some Aboriginal people, rather than all non-Aboriginal people, could result in the social and recreational function of the Centre being strengthened.

Relationships between users and the Police were somewhat fragile, with some police officers dissatisfied with the Centre because it is seen as protecting offenders. At the same time, it was found that users were, on the whole, accepting of the role of the Police and not unduly critical.

In summary, it was found that the centre was carrying out a useful role in Adelaide particularly in providing a relatively safe environment for young Aboriginal people drawn into Adelaide at weekends and clearly 'at risk'. Although the service provided was, in some respects, passive, rather than pro-active, and also under criticism from some police officers, its overall value and need for sustained supportive funding is hard to dispute.