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Bringing peace to the streets

26 March 2012

Bringing peace to the streets

“The initial need for what we do was driven by the community. They were not happy about the antisocial behavior.” Salvation Army Captain Brett Mitchell

Streets in nightclub precincts are busy places on Saturday nights and the early hours of Sunday mornings. People spill out onto the footpaths around venues, heading for overcrowded taxi ranks, often the worse for wear, after an evening of partying.

In an environment fuelled by alcohol, an undercurrent of violence is all too often ready to erupt.

Salvation Army Captain Brett Mitchell, from Manly’s Salvation Army New Life Community Church, says there was widespread community concern that something had to be done on the Manly Corso (NSW) with drunken and antisocial behaviour steadily increasing.

The Salvos and other local churches were asked by community bodies if they could assist, and so Brett headed up the initiative that began 18 months ago, co-ordinating the Manly Street Pastors (part of an international network).

The team comprises a group of 36 trained volunteers, from 11 local churches, who are on the Corso every Saturday night from 11pm to 3am to ‘help, care and listen’.

Team members are highly visible, wearing distinctive blue caps, t-shirts and spray jackets, emblazoned with the words ‘Street Pastor’.

They may simply walk around chatting to revelers about the rugby, or their country of origin, or may be asked to walk single females along the road, or help when young people are highly intoxicated. At times they are asked to assist police and were recently first to the scene of a glassing, offering first aid and urging witnesses to stay on hand until authorities arrived.

Brett says: “Our aim is to meet the needs of people who may be distressed or need assistance.

“Over time, the community has grown to see us as people they can trust, and who are there to help. We are supported by the local council, and the police commander reports there has been a 20 per cent decrease in antisocial behavior since our initiative began.”

Brett says: “It’s not all us – the police and hoteliers are doing their bit, but it is certainly an answer to prayer.

“We pray every night that we are out there that God would transform that culture, and it is transforming.”

Brett believes that lives may even have been saved.

He says: “Probably one of my favourite stories is one night there were two groups of youths who crossed paths with each other … and we just happened to be walking by.

“One guy in the group was really angry. He was mouthing off and started walking back towards the other group and it started getting heated.

“I was with a female street pastor and we turned around and I tried to engage them saying ‘how’s your night been?’

“Two of the guys turned around and they weren’t overly interested (in a fight), but the other guy saw Jo, who just smiled at him. That’s pretty much all she did and he just looked at her and said ‘I don’t like that Emo guy’, and turned and went the other way,” Brett says.

“And I said to her – ‘you just stopped that fight with a smile.’”

If the team had not been on hand, he says, it is the type of situation that could easily escalate into violence.

Brett says sadly: “It was only a month ago that someone got punched on the Corso. Their head hit the ground, and later talking to a security guard, he said it sounded like a coconut being smashed. He went into hospital in a coma and could have easily died.

“We are out there to help prevent that violence as much as we can and, I guess you could say, bring some love to the Corso!”

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