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A Conversation on Human Services in the Redfern/ Waterloo Area

On Thursday 3 May 2018 REDWatch held a Roundtable on Human Services. Through caseworkers we found six people to start the REDWatch session by talking about their experience of the human services system and how it could be improved. This was then followed by a facilitated conversation with the broader attendees who had an interest in the human services system about what needed to be changed in the human services system. This conversation was led by Lyn Lormer from the Local Community Services Association (LCSA).

For the forum we described human services as:

Human Services are those which provide a service to society, particularly in times of crisis. Human Services are designed to help people navigate through crisis or chronic situations where the person feels they need external help and guidance to move forward with their life and rediscover their self-sufficiency. Sometimes the situation the person needs help with is external, such as the loss of a job or income, the need for food or housing or for help getting out of a dangerous situation, such as family violence. For other people the difficulty is an internal challenge such as depression, a physical ailment, disability, or other mental or physical health crisis. [Adapted by Inner Sydney Voice from humanserviceedu.org].

The nature of the definition hence encompassed dealings with Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) contractors on maintenance and some of this is reflected in participants comments.

Participants were told that we would present the report to Family and Community Services and Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) on their behalf. The attached report has been compiled from the notes taken by a number of scribes whose job it was to capture the key issues and then the final report was checked back as much as possible with participants. The report has then been submitted to FACS LAHC and SLHD as an input into the current human services discussions aimed at improving the way human services are co-ordinated and respond to people with high and complex needs in Redfern and Waterloo.
 

Report on a Conversation on Human Services in the Redfern/ Waterloo Area

Held by REDWatch at The Factory, Raglan Street Waterloo 3 May 2018, 6:00 - 7:30

Notes on the night taken by Geoff Turnbull, Alice Anderson, Michael Shreenan, Thomas Chailloux and Lyn Lormer. Compiled by Zoe Dunford.

Executive Summary

People want well maintained housing with appropriately connected, local, accessible support services in a community where they feel safe and have a sense of connection.

But residents are concerned that:

•    Residents do not understand the existing services system as there is no connection, clarity of purpose between the services or clear communication with residents.

•    Services are under resourced and understaffed so people are not receiving services in a timely or accessible manner.

•    The issues raised by residents are never resolved just put off to another time.
 

As people talk more about their concerns they talk specifically about:

•    Language barriers prevent people from reporting to or accessing services.

•    Lack of local services reduces the level of community networking and resilience.

•    If current services are inaccessible and inadequate what will happen when the population expands.

•    Mental health problems are seen as “too hard” to deal with.

•    Residents are treated with disrespect, like third class citizens especially when dealing with maintenance sub-contractors. This is not helped by turnover of staff and inconsistent information from government departments.

•    Residents feel unsafe and frightened as problems not being dealt with in a timely manner ensure violence. This occurs in the afternoon and evening. Police have a long response time so cannot be relied on.

 

Residents believe we need to focus on:

•    Building trusting relationships with politicians, government departments and other residents.

•    More community and local services eg foodcourt, a service to resolve neighbourhood disputes, better transition to NDIS, better accountability and easy accessible systems.

•    Action to resolve long term issues.

•    Better and consistent information/communication.

•    Getting good support while waiting for diagnosis/service system to kick in.

•    Take preventative measures to reduce violence eg pension day staggered.

•    More opportunities to talk about community aspirations and concerns eg MP morning teas, would increase the degree of connection and trust and may get issues resolved sooner.

 

At the moment, if you want to get anything done you have to do it yourself as government departments are not doing their job.

And so if all parts of the service system played their part in those actions then people would be more likely trust the effort and step forward.

Introductory Comments

The meeting followed a rough structure of the Harwood method.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the experiences of people who access Human Services and to better understand what works and what does not work well.

The structure of the meeting focused on a “user-centred approach”, staring from the perspective of users of services and then branching into a more general discussion about systemic issues.

Personal Experiences

The following experiences were reported by individuals in the community. They are reports of their own experiences dealing with human services. For many residents it was their first time speaking publicly and was a difficult experience for them to share such personal stories. For others in the room it was their first time hearing about these kinds of issues that were the everyday experiences of their neighbours and community.

Giving people the opportunity to speak was therefore an important process in allowing people to feel heard and visible in their community. This capacity building and community building process had merit in its own right.

Client one:

•    Client had a cognitive impairment.

•    Perceived to have a mental health problem by services, who also believed she was imagining the issues that she reported.

•    Caseworker present confirmed that the client often called in tears as a result of being unable to explain issues to services in a way that meant she was believed.

•    Client spoke about health problems from a fall including a broken tooth and an issue with her hip.

•    A major problem in the client’s home was leaking sewerage. Services finally believed the client after she reported waking up in the morning covered in sewerage in her own bed.

•    Client had problems replacing and cleaning bedding and other household items after the incident.

•    The client reported being moved into crisis accomodation as a result of the maintenance issues but did not feel secure there as the other residents were all male.

 

Client two:

•    Client also reported issues with sewerage at her premises.

•    Client had erected privacy screening which caused a dispute with her neighbour.

•    Caseworker reported at this point that the problem here was maintenance jobs not done properly, meaning clients had to make their own improvements; caseworker said “They would condemn the place rather than fixing the house.”

•    The client reported getting limited assistance from services and at times felt very disrespected by various services.

•    The client was required to go to the Tribunal three times.

•    The client reported frustration that other neighbours had things approved such as paint or fly screens when she had been declined approval.

•    Client reported using her own money to improve her residence as maintenance was not done and then being threatened with eviction. She reported this occurring in relation to repainting her residence and the privacy fence and more trivial actions such as pot plants being placed on the fence.

 

Client three:

 

•    The client has been a resident of the Waterloo Estate since 2009.

•    Client reported that plumbing and electrical issues were a significant problem in his residence.

•    Client also reported mould at his residence.

•    The client reported that he was forced to take out an AVO against his upstairs neighbour because he felt threatened by their continuing behaviour.

•    The client’s next-door neighbour had a significant hoarding problem which was affecting other residents as the neighbour was collecting what others had thrown out and storing it in the common areas. This was creating  a risk to health and safety and also brining pests. The client expressed concern about the impact of this on older residents, such as another neighbour who had lived in their unit for 48 years.

•    The client reported frustration with contractors, in his case plumbers, not arriving to do repairs when they were supposed to or had indicated that they would.

•    The client made comments regarding the lack of services in Waterloo, he made reference to a lack of a “foodcourt”, no hospital, that the medical centre was not easily accessible. He described Waterloo as not somewhere you come to but that you leave Waterloo to go somewhere.

•    The client reported violence in the area and said he would not go out at night or answer his door. He reported concern about elderly and other vulnerable people as well as visitors to the area.

 

Client four:

•    This client reported being a resident of Solander in Waterloo. She reported frustration at the needles in the area and said that the government was not doing their job in making the area safe in this regard.

•    The client reported the lack of quality contractors, she said that plumbers who had come to her residence appeared to be inexperienced or apprentices. This would mean that they would often need to leave as they could not do the job, meaning there were multiple visits and attempts needed to fix the one problem causing inconvenience to the client and inefficiency.

•    The client expressed concern that repair jobs were perceived to have been “ticked off” when actually they had not been completed, meaning a resolution of the issue was never reached.

•    The client reported that she had had a break in, causing damage to her front door. She had difficulties in getting this door repaired meaning the door was not strong enough to keep out problematic neighbours.

•    The client raised general concerns about the impact of mental health issues in the area.

 

Client five:

 

•    The client reported that she had been a resident of public housing for six years.

•    The client reported that she had suffered from a chronic health condition which remained undiagnosed for a long period, alongside an undiagnosed mental health issues. The lack of a diagnosis in both cases led to a lack of access to services

•    The client spoke about long waiting times at the Royal Prince Alfred hospital and at other specialists. She also had to wait a long period to get a mental health assessment. She noted that this assessment was needed in order to access other services or to get a package.

•    The client reported that there was a long waiting list and there was no support while waiting to be assessed as the services system does not work until you have a diagnosis. The client reported “just trying to stay out of crisis” during this period as her mental health deteriorated without any services or support.

•    The client reported issues with being eligible for a package under the NDIS, due to the requirement the mental health issue be “permanent” and the lack of community services outside of hospital and the NDIS scheme. The client’s experience occurred during the transition to the NDIS, exacerbating the above issues and making them more difficult.

 

Client six:

Note these comments were made later in the meeting, however were comments regarding personal experiences with the system and so fit better here.

•    The client was one of a large number of attendees from the Chinese community. Both Cantonese and Mandarin speaking community members attended with translators. The client spoke through a translator.

•    The client reported further difficulties experienced in accessing services and information due to the language barrier.

•    The client expressed that she felt non-English speakers were excluded from conversations, getting information and feedback.

•    The client also reported that language became an issue when required to communicate with services including the police.

 

General discussion

After personal experiences were shared their was a general discussion about common themes of experiences. Throughout this part of the meeting more personal experience also came to light. The concerns raised in the general discussion strongly correlated with the themes, issues and concerns that were raised in people’s personal experiences.

The key concerns that were reported were:

1.       A lack of respect from services.

2.       Services being difficult to access when needed.

3.       Lack of connection and continuity between services. Housing should be linked to other services, not kept seperate from Health and welfare etc.

4.       Lack of connection and continuity between the processes followed by services and lack of resolution of problem.

5.       Services were not tailored to the needs of individuals. They were a blanket approach for all people, ignoring individual needs and experiences.

More generally, concerns were raised about:

Lack of services or Accessibility issues

•    Issues of translation and access for non-English speaking clients.

•    Lack of resources for mental health and the waiting times being of particular concern when services were required in a timely manner.

•    Communication breakdown between the community and services.

•    The under resourcing of services, exemplified by wait times and poor quality of service, was a common concern.

•    Residents raised real concerns about what services will be added under the new development. Concerns were raised that money was being spent to bring in more residents, however pre-existing services were under strain and so there was concern that the system would be pushed further into crisis if more services were not created to account for new residents.

•    There was a need to travel to most services, for example the hospitals.

•    Residents raised problems around “pay day” and the drinking and substance abuse associated with the days following. It was expressed by some that that one of the issues was the mix of alcohol with other prescribed medications. Little to no support was offerred to mitigate this problem.

•    Residents raised concerns around not having relevant contact details of building managers, meaning they could not report problems in the building.

 

Empathy

•    Desire for human services to better understand the experiences of residents, especially in the evening and night.

•    Residents raised feeling like they were a low priority. For example, when workers promised to come back and then did not return.

•    Better awareness of stress and trauma experienced by residents was called for.

•    Residents reported that they did not trust many human service agencies.

 

Timeliness

•    Police often came up to five hours after the initial call and it was sometimes not local police who attended. Often police gave a warning and left, meaning behaviour continued. There was a view that the police were in some cases the ones to respond however they did not act as they knew the hospital would not take the person causing the problem.

•    Maintenance issues were driving people to despair and people’s health was deteriorating as a result of poor maintenance. Frustration was expressed that maintenance people did not come when they said and if the resident was not at home when they arrived, it was difficult to get someone to come back out to fix the problem. Still ongoing problems with the contractor system.

 

There was some positive experiences and services reported by residents.

Positive feedback

•    Occupational therapists were said to be helpful.

•    Residence reported trust in local services such as the community centre and the library.

•    Some residents reported success by going straight to MP offices, including Ron Hoenig’s office.

 

Throughout the discussion certain suggestions for improvement were made by residents.

Suggestions

 

•    A guide to human services and who to call - needed not just for community housing but for all residents

•    Tenants be surveyed and consulted about their issues.

•    Guardian services more involved in helping people manage their money.

•    More health services in the area, not just GPs.

•    “Pay days” spread out over the month, a number of residents reported that this may already be happening.

•    An addiction specialist close to the Estate to assist when someone was in crisis or to assist when there was an incident related to substance abuse.

•    Consistent platform of announcements and updates in various languages.

 

This forum was also reported in the South Sydney Herald in the article Barriers to effective human service provision

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