21 August 2006
Forgotten People: Men On their
The Salvation Army is calling for sweeping changes by the Government and social services to better help the growing number of Kiwi men living on the fringes of society.
Dubbed the Forgotten People in a report published today (August 22) by The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit, these men live a miserable existence, said Major Campbell Roberts, director of the unit.
Major Roberts said that at one extreme were men who slept rough, or lived at a night shelter, and fed themselves from foodbanks, and sometimes rubbish bins. At the other end were men living in hostels.
Their accommodation and food were taken care of, but they had very little money left after their board and debts/fines were taken out of their benefit. These men found it difficult to afford even the most basic necessities, such as a toothbrush or soap.
“This is a group of men who live on the margins of New Zealand society. Where they are able to access the services of a community social service provider, they are usually able to have basic needs met, but they live a restricted and often isolated life.”
Major Roberts said social services and the Government appeared to have forgotten about these men who lived on their own with little or no family support.
“Current social policy and social services largely focus on the needs of parents with children. It is important to ask what might be happening to people who are outside of this type of household.”
The research report looks at the circumstances of men using social services who live outside de facto/marriage relationship or family household. Typically, they may have mental health and/or addictions; be on a low income or unemployed; and have criminal convictions or been in prison.
Major Roberts said working age, single men appeared to be largely ignored by government but needed focused policies and services to improve their circumstances.
“Complex as some of the men can be, they are still citizens and taxpayers. Many of them are also fathers.
“These men face multiple barriers to improving their circumstances. There appear to be few government services designed specifically to meet their needs, and they have limited access to the Government services that are available. Community based services are also limited,” the report says.
Philip Eichler, manager of The Salvation Army Men’s Hostel and Court Liaison Officer in Palmerston North, said that lower unemployment had helped reduce the number of men seeking supportive accommodation but that those presenting sometimes had more serious and complex problems.
“Mental illness is a big issue. It’s not unusual for us to be called in by a member of the public who has met someone needing our help and we often get acute referrals. The men will typically be homeless, dishevelled, destitute, and may often be new to the town.
“Once we can get some ID, we frequently find that they are under the Mental Health Act but have either been discharged from a facility or run away. Invariably, they stop taking their medication, which presents all sorts of problems.
“We are not clinicians but we now find ourselves often dealing with people who have acute psychiatric problems.
“It means the dynamics at the hostel can be very tense when you bring together on one hand, men who are vulnerable, and on the other, some guys who use stand-over tactics to get what they want. A large percentage of the men we see come directly from prison and are often high level offenders.”
The Salvation Army has put together a comprehensive list of recommendations to ensure better treatment of marginalised men. They include:
- A review by social services and government agencies of how well they cope with and meet the needs of men with addictions or mental health conditions
- Better education for men about mental health issues including when, how and where to access help
- Scrutiny of the benefit system for these men, including the adequacy of payments and incentives to get a job
- A review by the Department of Corrections of the assessment and treatment for addictions and mental health conditions while offenders are in prison and a look at the effectiveness of post-release support services
- An overhaul by Work and Income of their case management of men typified by The Salvation Army study. Staff needed to better understand the men but must have appropriate training
- That Housing New Zealand reviews the availability of housing suitable for single men and develop plans to improve supply in areas where there is a shortage.