Clean-up of ‘Sherwood’ area near Prague's main train station sees setbacks due to pandemic

A large influx of drug users have come to Vrchlického sady since the March lockdown

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 12.10.2020 10:30 (updated on 12.10.2020)

The park in front of Prague’s main train station Hlavní nádraží has seen an increase in illegal drug users since the declaration of the first state of emergency in March, according to the Prague 1 district.

Efforts to clean up Vrchlického sady, commonly called Sherwood by locals, have been taking place for many years but are experiencing a setback.

Prague 1 Town Hall says that drug users, who are often homeless, have moved to the park from not only within Prague, but also other places in the Czech Republic and even abroad.

The district notified the Czech Police at the start of September of its concerns over more drug use in the park, and a police investigation confirmed the district’s allegations.

Police patrolling Vrchlického sady / via Raymond Johnston
Police patrolling Vrchlického sady / via Raymond Johnston

“In cooperation with the Czech Police and the Municipal Police, we managed to partially calm down the situation in the summer months, yet it remains serious. It disturbs public order and endangers the safety of our citizens and visitors to our city district. Therefore, we want to negotiate further steps with the city administration and with non-profit organizations providing social services in the location,” Prague 1 Mayor Petr Hejma (STAN) said in a press release.

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The Czech Police pointed out that a side effect of the presence of field services and food dispensing, as well as a homeless center in Bolzanova Street, is that drug users and homeless people from across the country congregate around the main station. This fact is also known to drug dealers, who can then find a large base of potential customers in one spot.

A problem cited by the Prague 1 district is the large amount of hypodermic needles that users receive as part of their services and then, after use, dispose of on the park’s paths and lawns. The district maintains that dispensing needles in the area leads to a large number of drug users every afternoon in the immediate vicinity of the dispensing stations, who after using drugs come into contact with families with children near the Vrchlického sady playground.

People going to and from Hlavní nádraží / via Raymond Johnston
People going to and from Hlavní nádraží / via Raymond Johnston

“In the long run, we managed to solve the problems in Vrchlického sady, in small steps, but after the declaration of the spring state of emergency and the reduction of the activities of some social services, the concentration of drug users increased significantly again, and this needs to be systematically addressed in cooperation with Prague City Hall,” Prague 1 Councilor Richard Bureš (ODS), whose responsibility includes the environment and sanitation, said.

As a result of the available services, drug users and homeless people use Vrchlického sady as a kind of base, occupying benches in the park and its surroundings. They also attempt to raise money in various illegal ways in the area, according to Prague 1.

Prague City Hall says it is aware of the issue. “We perceive the seriousness of the situation, and we are ready to solve it together with the Prague 1 City District, the Prague Municipal Police and the social service providers so that the area in front of Hlavní nádraží becomes safe again,” Prague Deputy Mayor Petr Hlubuček (United Force for Prague), responsible for safety and living environment, said.

Prague 1, in cooperation with non-profit organizations and the police, says it has long been fighting against the consequences of drug addiction and is actively addressing prevention. Regular collection and safe disposal of used syringes also reduces the risk of contact with an infected needle and the risk of viral disease.

List of rules for Vrchlického sady / via Raymond Johnston
List of rules for Vrchlického sady / via Raymond Johnston

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Social service providers say they are also working on the issue of used needles. “The non-profit organization Progressive, our employees and police officers collect around 300 used syringes per week. In exposed areas, we also provide regular cleaning and disinfection of affected areas. In 2016, as part of the Fixpoint project, implemented by the Progressive organization, we also installed metal containers, which are used to safely dispose of used syringes,” Ladislav Varga, head of the Department of Social Affairs and Health at the Prague 1 District Office, said.

The most commonly abused drugs are cannabis, the synthetic amphetamine Pervitin and opiate-addiction treatment drug Subutex, according to Prague 1.

In the near future, Vrchlického sady will see many changes. A new line of tram tracks will stop directly in front of the station so that people taking a train will not have to walk through the park. There is also a plan to turn the parking lot on top of the modern extension of the station into a plaza.