The Take Kare Safe Space (TKSS) program is one of the functions of Stay Kind (formally, the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation) established in response to concerns about the safety of young people at night. The program commenced operations at Town Hall in December 2014, Kings Cross in July 2015, and Darling Harbour in February 2017. It operates year-round from 10pm to 4am on Friday and Saturday nights. Recent funding cuts have forced the closure of the Darling Harbour Site and restricted operation of the Kings Cross Safe Space to Saturday nights.
The NSW Government’s Department of Justice provided funding to conduct an evaluation of the TKSS program. The evaluation was informed by the NSW Government’s Program Evaluation Guidelines and included process, outcome and economic indicators. The evaluation relied on internal program-level data, routinely collected data; and, interview and survey data.
Until recently, internal program level data was collected by TKSS ambassadors using pen and paper. Recent changes have seen the development of an app (through in-kind support from the University of Technology, Sydney), that will streamline the collection of data, improve the time lag for the reporting process as well as support a richer source of data collection. This analysis, however, relies on historical data collected using pen and paper. Over the period of interest, December 2014 – April 2019 (inclusive), records indicate that 66,455 people had been supported by the TKSS program with 62% of users being males and 66% aged between 18-25 years. Most users were perceived by the TKSS ambassadors to have a high level of intoxication (46%) with 8% perceived to be under the influence of drugs. Most users (66%) spent time at the safe space and 19% were supported in other ways (defined as incidents). The type of incidents recorded by ambassadors include minimising the risk of physical assault, sexual assault, theft or injury. Over the period of interest, ambassadors intervened to avert the risk of serious harm in 735 cases from a total of 3,633 incidents, 20% of all incidents.
Routinely collected data sources used in this analysis included: crime, emergency department (ED) and ambulance data. Generalised linear models for time series counts were used to specify segmented regressions for data extracted over the period 2009-2018. The two main segments modelled were the introduction of the Liquor Amendment Act (LAA) and the start of the TKSS program. Given that TKSS and the introduction of LAA were implemented within 2 years (at most) of each other, the attributed effect to each intervention on rates of offences is difficult to discern since these interventions are combined with complex interactions over time and with dynamic population movements. For ED admissions, the results were unclear about the true effect of the TKSS program on either head-injury related admission or alcohol-related admissions. For the ambulance data analysis, similarly to the crime analysis data, the results were unable to discern a statistically significant reduction in assault-related or drug and alcohol-related ambulance dispatches. Reasons identified included low monthly counts, background noise and the relatively short time between LAA and TKSS. In summary, the analysis of routinely collected data sources was not able to disentangle the potential attribution of the TKSS program in reducing crime or ED admissions. Nevertheless, and although this analysis is only a retrospective observational study, Figure 11 shows assaults started to increase again from 2015 but not related Emergency Department presentations or related Ambulance call-outs, which might reflect the important point that a key function of TKSS program is the prevention of relatively serious harms (those that require emergency services) as opposed to preventing the occurrence of crimes per se.
A questionnaire was developed to explore clients use and satisfaction with the Safe Spaces. Of the 157 participants, 61% were male, the average age was 23 years; 42% had completed tertiary education and 38% were employed full time. Ninety-four percent of participants consumed alcohol at hazardous levels and 23% had been professionally diagnosed with a mental health condition. Over a half of the participants accessed a Safe Space by themselves with the majority using the service to receive water, to sober up or charge their phones. Ninety percent of participants were extremely satisfied with the service and would recommend it to friends.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with stakeholders, including staff from NSW Police and Ambulance, St Vincent’s, City of Sydney, licensed venues and clients of the program. All interviews were recorded (in audio or written form) with consent, transcribed and subjected to a thematic analysis which identified and explored salient themes within and across the data. The identified strengths of the TKSS program were various and routinely shared across stakeholder groups, serving to reinforce the validity of findings. The most salient strengths identified across the interview dataset were the program’s role in filling a service gap in nightlife settings; improving efficiency and effectiveness of emergency services and other stakeholders operating in nightlife settings; and, the ambassadors’ ability to de-escalate conflict and provide welfare services through the performance of early, proactive and non-judgmental, interventions. Perceived weaknesses of the TKSS program included: a lack of public awareness around the program; the ability of the program to service its current localities given staff and volunteer levels; and misunderstandings regarding the scope and function of the TKSS program by some stakeholders. Stakeholders, while noting the above challenges were universally satisfied with the performance of the program and felt that it was meeting its stated objectives.
A benefit-cost analysis of the TKSS program was undertaken by comparing benefits and costs. Benefits included the value of serious harm averted and the social (community) value attached to lives saved through ambassador interventions. Costs included operating expenses and the market value of volunteer time. Several sensitivity analyses tested the robustness of results to changes in assumptions. Over the period December 2014 – April 2019 (inclusive), the benefits of the TKSS program are estimated at $7.46 million and operating costs at $2.79 million with a benefit-cost ratio of 2.67, suggesting that a $1 investment in the program results in $2.67 of benefits. When the TKSS program was fully operational in three sites (i.e., in 2016-17), the benefit-cost ratio increased to 3.83, suggesting that a $1 investment in the program results in $3.83 of benefits. These results are conservative and the return on investment is likely to be much higher given that the analysis does not quantify the full spectrum of benefits associated with the TKSS program such as: improved public safety and amenity; more efficient resource allocation for service providers; improved partnership, communication and resourcing to manage Sydney nightlife; and, the flow on effects for tourism and investment.
The TKSS program has withstood several significant challenges since opening including sporadic funding, a variation to the modus operandi and, significant capital works within the boundaries of the program. Despite these challenges, the TKSS program has met it objective to provide a harm reduction service where vulnerable young people can access support and a safe place or a safe passage home. The benefits that could be quantified outweigh the cost of delivering the program suggesting that Safe Spaces are a good economic investment that should be supported with appropriate funding.