13 Dec 2018

MSD’s treatment ‘didn’t make me feel human’

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 13 December 2018

A man who uses a wheelchair and was left to live in his car after being denied emergency accommodation by MSD says the department stripped him of his humanity and left him to live like a dog.

The man - who can not be named - is demanding Ministry of Social Development do better for him and others who are struggling to find suitable accommodation.

In an exclusive interview with Checkpoint, he described how he lived in his car because MSD case managers denied him emergency accommodation. He was eventually provided with motel accommodation, on and off, but was told to pay back the $10,000 it cost.

The Social Security Appeal Authority reviewed his case last year, ordering MSD wipe his debt. It concluded he was homeless through no fault of his own, his situation was an emergency and leaving a man with a potentially fatal condition to live in a car was incompatible with New Zealand values.

The man said he "hoped and prayed" that no one else would have to go through what he did.

"It didn’t make me feel human, to be completely honest. Like people probably treat their pets with a lot more respect that what I got treated.

"I pleaded with my life with them…They didn’t hear me, didn’t care. They did not care. My life was on the line. My life was in God’s hands. I was left out there like a dog. In pain. Not being able to walk. Being in a wheelchair….no help. No help. I was out there on the street."

Some of the case managers treated him with a "cold heart" - he says it seemed they had targets to meet.

It felt like they were: "Ticking boxes. I’m just a stat. I’m just a number. I’m not a human, I’m not a person."

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni told Checkpoint earlier in the week that the man was owed an apology, and deputy chief executive Viv Rickard said he had tried to contact him to apologise. But the man says he hasn’t heard from either Ms Sepuloni or Mr Rickard.

"I think these organisations, Viv Rickard, Carmel Sepuloni, they’re delusional.

"They must do better. I’m demanding they do better. They demand beneficiaries make their appointments, live like animals, so I’m demanding you show me the respect I’m due."

Now living in a Housing New Zealand house, he had a message for people who were homeless: "Just keep on fighting, have a little bit of faith that there might be some changes soon. That my interview today won’t be for nothing."

He also had a message for the government: "I voted for your party Jacinda, in order for change from the National Party because I saw that they didn’t do nothing. Don’t talk about things. False promises."

In a statement, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said she empathised with the man and his "unfortunate case" happened under the previous government.

"Under this government his emergency housing grant would not have been made recoverable.

"I have been clear with MSD that people seeking support should be treated with fairness and respect and be given their correct entitlements.

"I encourage anyone that believes they haven't been treated fairly or given access to their correct entitlements to contact MSD to seek a review of decision."