A lifeline, not a lockup: cohealth ready to care for Melburnians

Released on 5th November 2023

cohealth says it is well-prepared and eager for the first day delivering public intoxication health services in metro Melbourne, unveiling its new pink uniforms and branded vehicles which will roll out from 7 November. 

cohealth, a not-for-profit community health service, is one of several health agencies delivering a health-led response to public drunkenness in Victoria from 7 November following the decriminalisation of public intoxication. 

“We’re ready to deliver a new service that could literally change the trajectory of someone’s life, giving them a lifeline instead of a lockup,” said Christopher Turner, cohealth Deputy Chief Executive. 

“Providing an on-the-ground health response means we can reduce demand on police and ambulance, but we’ll have the ability to escalate to emergency services if required.” 

“We’ve got a proven track record thanks to the trial in Yarra, which was a great success. We helped hundreds of intoxicated people through that trial, and we’ll carry those learnings over to this expanded service.”  

cohealth is introducing new pink polos to distinguish its public intoxication outreach workers from police and emergency services workers who wear navy.   

“We want to create a feeling of safety and calm, especially for clients who have had negative experiences with police and institutions, and even our uniforms can impact client interactions,” said Mr Turner 

The move to a health-based response to public intoxication brings Victoria into line with all other states except Queensland. 

“I give deepest thanks to those who have fiercely advocated for the decriminalisation of public intoxication since 1991 following a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody,” said Mr Turner. 

“Through all the noise and politics, the voices and experiences of First Nations Victorians should be front and centre this week.” 

About public intoxication outreach 

cohealth will employ 40 staff in its public intoxication service, across both its outreach teams and at the sobering centre. 

Up to 10 outreach teams will be available throughout the week on-call and proactively visiting hot spots in Melbourne to provide support.  

  • cohealth outreach vehicles will be available in the metro area  
  • The outreach team will be proactively out on the streets 8 pm – 4 am onThursday,Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and on-call 24/7 at other times 
  • outreach team is comprised of a nurse and an alcohol and drug specialist who carry a medical kit, water, snacks and mobile chargers.  
  • The sobering centre will operate 24/7  

“Although there’s a lot of interest in the sobering centre, outreach is where most of the work is happening. Getting people home or reconnected with friends and family is our priority and taking them to a sobering centre is a last option,” said Mr Turner. 

During outreach, the cohealth team will: 

  • Assess intoxicated clients for health and safety needs 
  • Provide water, tend to minor injuries, charge mobiles, contact family/friends 
  • Escalate to emergency services if serious health or community safety risk  
  • Help people to get home or into safe care via a cohealth vehicle, taxi, public transport or family/friend pickup  
  • Take people to the sobering centre as a last option 
  • If people refuse assistance, they will be left in place if assessed as safe 


About the sobering centre 

While construction finishes on the 20-bed facility in Cambridge St Collingwood, cohealth will continue working from the six-bed trial site in Gertrude St Collingwood which has been operational for 18 months. 

“The sobering centre is the last option. We’ll work with other health services and hospitals if we reach capacity, so people will always get the care and support they need,” said Mr Turner. 

To be eligible to be taken to the sobering centre a client must be able to walk, to give consent, to have no serious health needs, pose no safety risk. 

The sobering centre will offer a safe place to sleep, showers, food and referrals to other health and support services such as family violence, mental health and alcohol and drug counselling.  

— Ends — 

More on cohealth: 

cohealth is one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all.  cohealth provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical, oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services.  

more information:  Lanie Harris 0418 552 377  media@cohealth.org.au 

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