It’s a shady enclave with a sinister reputation. But frustration and desperation levels are reaching new heights over a lack of help for those trapped in limbo.
It’s a shady enclave with a sinister reputation. But frustration and desperation levels are reaching new heights over a lack of help for those trapped in limbo.

‘They have lost hope’

IT'S a shady enclave with a sinister reputation in the heart of the city.

Once a bustling tourist accommodation site, the privately-owned Cairns Villa and Leisure Park on Pease St is now one of Cairns' most notorious slums.

Residents here face terrifying levels of violence, drug abuse, alcoholism and death every day.

Many of the families desperately want to escape, but most simply have nowhere else to go.

Pressure is mounting for state-resourced agencies to step in and support more than 200 residents who exist in a heartbreaking limbo between homelessness and social housing.

Beyond the park's entrance is a group of graffiti-covered tumbledown bedsits which have such a reputation, some residents here say police don't respond to triple-0 calls unless multiple people report the same incident.

 

Children play at the Cairns Villa and Leisure Park in Manunda. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Children play at the Cairns Villa and Leisure Park in Manunda. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

 

Onsite security guards have been bashed, law-abiding residents are afraid to leave their units for fear of having things stolen, others live with horrific domestic violence and mothers hold grave concerns for children exposed to drinking, drug-fuelled rampages and late night parties.

No state housing subsidy means most residents pay up to $300 per week in rent.

Having been bashed for not giving up a cigarette one 75-year-old resident in tears said the situation at the park had declined recently since she moved into the park 15 years ago.

"I am scared. We used to have a security guard come and sit at our place and have a coffee at night (until he) got bashed," she said.

"We have put in security cameras we put in ourselves … we spent that much money, now we have none left."

Sandy Michael is the caretaker at the Cairns Villa and Leisure Park at Manoora. Picture: Brendan Radke
Sandy Michael is the caretaker at the Cairns Villa and Leisure Park at Manoora. Picture: Brendan Radke

 

The resident said constant anxiety had pushed her to brink of suicide and she lived for the day when a social housing spot became available and she could get out.

Living in fear of being made homeless, residents are reluctant to complain about poorly maintained dwellings, noise and illegal activity.

Applying for other accommodation, residents are often knocked back when listing Cairns Villa and Leisure Park as a previous address due to the infamous reputation of the park.

Staff who don't have degrees, training or experience are left to deal with complex mental health issues, dispute resolution, organising support services and shockingly, making arrangements for residents who die onsite.

 

 

Caretaker of the Cairns Villa and Leisure Park Sandy Michael and Women's Yarning Place founder Yolonde Entsch. Picture: Brendan Radke
Caretaker of the Cairns Villa and Leisure Park Sandy Michael and Women's Yarning Place founder Yolonde Entsch. Picture: Brendan Radke

 

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Live-in park caretaker Sandy Michael has taken on the role of a dispute mediator, counsellor and when a resident dies, she tracks down the next of kin on top of the duties relating to the actual running of the park.

"We have to try and find their relatives and try to counsel and talk to each other. It's very hard for us and there are times we sit back and go 'what are we doing here?'" she said.

Yolonde Entsch is a women's advocate and founder of the Yarning Circle meeting hub based at the park. She's also married to Federal MP for Leichhardt Warren Entsch.

Such is the extent of neglect Ms Entsch said there had been four deaths at the park in four months - one body remained undiscovered for days.

"One the gentlemen that passed away in his van had been deceased for a couple of days, we think," she said.

 

 

Run down bungalows at the Cairns Villa and Leisure Park. Picture: Brendan Radke
Run down bungalows at the Cairns Villa and Leisure Park. Picture: Brendan Radke

"The staff here found him. There was a smell coming from the van and it was where the rubbish bins are so people assumed it was that.

"Three staff knocked on the door, they could smell something that wasn't right and they looked in the window and they could see that he had passed away on his bed.

"You can imagine in the heat, stomach bloated. That created trauma for each of those three people."

Ms Entsch said at the core of the problem was a shared loss of faith that resident situations will improve.

"That's the reality of this particular environment," she said.

"When you are putting people together when they have lost hope, it's not rocket science."

A police spokesman in response to allegations said officers use a model to manage calls for service.

"Anecdotal evidence suggests historical calls for service were higher than average for the Cairns area," he said.

"The use of some private security in the area and effective management of incidents by police

has made some impact at reducing repeat calls for service."

 

Originally published as 'They have lost hope': Where our system is going wrong



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