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Recession crippling key city welfare agency

Aug 31st, 2009 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

ONE of Wellington’s key non-government social welfare centres is running out of money and fears for the thousands of people it helps.

Health and advocacy services provider the Wellington’s People’s Centre – which relies on 16 paid staff (10 fulltime equivalents) and 16 volunteers to help more than 800 families – works at the coal-face providing health services and advice to migrants, refugees and struggling families.PeopleCentreMAIN1

Co-ordinator Kay Brereton  (right) says the centre (which was established in 1992 in reaction to Ruth Richardson’s “mother of all budgets”) is struggling with funding because of the financial crisis.

The medical services the centre provides are funded by general medical subsidies that come with a medical service, while additional funding comes from the Sisters of Compassion.

The dental services are run as a break-even service and the centre is struggling to keep prices at the current low level.

Ms Brereton says that there was funding available from the Ministry of Social Development, but the centre chose not to take it because the centre did not agree with the ministry’s contractual requirements.

“They wanted too much access to our client files. They wanted too much say over who delivered our services for the small amount of money they were offering.”

Dentist Dilani: Samarsingbe, Beza Tilahun, Dental Assistant: Yogi Mistry

NEW SURGERY: Dentist Dilani Samarsingbe (left) works on Beza Tilahun, with help from dental assistant Yogi Mistry.

The lifeblood of the organisation is a membership fee of $2.50 per week per family, which gives access to the centre’s low cost healthcare and medical, dental and counselling services, massage and acupuncture, and social English classes.

Advocacy services on offer – such as benefit rights, benefit rights training and worker’s rights – are free of charge to those who need advice.

It is important not only to provide affordable health services but to advocate for change and help people help themselves, she says.

“If all you’re doing is continually patching up the problems, then after a while you just become really disillusioned because the problems don’t go away. They just kind of seem to get bigger.”

Ms Brereton says the centre employs a number of immigrants across a variety of roles.

“We employ a reasonable number of immigrants and give them that chance to work in an organisation in New Zealand that’s going to value them.”

The advocacy services side of the centre is mainly staffed by volunteers, with two paid staff employed despite the shortage of funding.

PeopleCentreMAIN3She says the centre is starting to see more migrants and refugees join the benefits rights services, with some helping people with poor English understand their rights.

“We deal with a lot of people who have very poor English. Upstairs in benefit rights, we’ve now got a Russian woman and an Armenian woman and a Somalian man working up there with us.

The Wellington People’s Centre will be adversely affected by the cuts to adult community education, she says: “We are directly affected because our benefits rights advocacy course is partially funded by adult education.

“But also the work that we do with migrants has taught me that adult education is enormously important for migrants.

“Beyond what is in the lesson, they can learn about New Zealand culture through adult ed.”

She is inspired by many of the people she has met who have endured so much before arriving in New Zealand as refugees.

“There’s an Afghani woman I work with whose husband, brothers and father all got killed by the Taleban, and she trekked her children across Afghanistan, spent a year in Pakistan living off the kindness of strangers and ended up in a refugee camp in Iran.

“[She] spent quite a few years there before she got bought here. What an amazing woman.  To her she’s just an ordinary mother.”

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is a Whitireia Journalism student.
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  1. Acupuncture helps me in my allergies. I have hay fever ever since i was a kid.~`*

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