Homeless – Salvation Army say PM got it wrong

The Salvation Army says incorrect statements by the government last week have jeopardised its ability to work with the homeless.

It said the government’s claims that Ministry of Social Development (MSD) staff accompanied Salvation Army staff to visit homeless people in a South Auckland park were incorrect.

The prime minister’s office has issued a statement saying his comments were based on advice given to him.

Last week prime minister John Key was talking about the “flying squad”, dispatched earlier this week by the government to help the homeless, and gauge the level of the problem.

“On I think Tuesday or Wednesday night MSD and the Sallies went around and knocked on I think eight cars that they could find, all eight of those people refused to take support either from Sallies or from MSD.”

However, the Salvation Army said that was not true.

Divisional commander Ian Hutson said it declined an offer by MSD officials to accompany them, as many of the people there had a deep distrust of government officials.

The Salvation Army had been working with the people in the park for four weeks building trust, he said.

“I guess the main issue here for us is re-establishing the fact that we were concerned that we would lose some of that relationship with statements like this, that it will impair the way we will be able to help the people there,” Hutson said.

Speaking to Checkpoint,  Hutson said he believed there had been some kind of miscommunication.

“We’ve been carefully developing relationships with people there… gaining their trust.”

He said while MSD had asked the Salvation Army if they wanted to participate, they preferred working the way they were.

“That’s not how we do things, we weren’t involved in it.

Mr Key’s office told ONE News he was given the information by Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett.

He said he was making the point that people have refused assistance that they had been offered.

MSD has responded by saying it is continuing to support mobile squads of NGO workers who are “actively engaging with homeless in the community”.

“Local community organisations make up the mobile squads while we provide the support to make sure people are getting what they need – the help is there, and this is one way we can make sure those needing it are getting it,” MSD’s Auckland regional commissioner Blair McKenzie said.

To date, MSD said it has approached 15 people living in cars. One person, who was not homeless, has chosen to engage further with MSD.


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