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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 2. 7th March 1973

Big Brother and the Holding Company — City Mission No Help To Alcoholics

page 7

Big Brother and the Holding Company

City Mission No Help To Alcoholics

There are two kinds of alcoholics in this country; the social drinker, who hides behind the fancy concrete and brick walls of their mansions in Karori, Khandallah, and Oriental Bay; and the "down and outs", the dregs of society who visit the soup kitchen in Buckle Street, sleep out in the Basin Reserve, in the Night Shelter, and houses like 14 Ohiro Road, and 29-31 Abel Smith Street. The community only sees the latter group although they are less of a social nuisance than the people in power who have to rely on their social drinking to face life. Most people prefer to turn their heads the other way and ignore the problem, even the Government neglects its responsibility, leaving the bulk of the work to be done by voluntary organisations and individuals.

Image of a man sleeping on the street

One such organisation is the Wellington City Mission, headed by the Rev. Walter Arnold (a Canon in the Anglican church). The Mission hands out the $21 per week Social Security benefit to the alcoholics at $2 a day for four days a week, and $3 or $4 on Friday. This leaves a balance of $9 or $10 a week which according to the Rev. Arnold goes towards board or rent, if the beneficiary has somewhere to stay. But what happens to the $10 which belongs to those who have nowhere to live? The Mission says that the money is deposited in bank accounts and is used to pay for any convalescent expenses or specialists fees. However, very few ever get this sort of treatment, so that the money keeps on growing in these bank accounts waiting to be claimed.

Many of the alcoholics are unhappy with the way their money is being kept from them. Some alcoholics say that Arnold has as much as $1700 in trust, but they have never seen it. Most believe they will never see it either. No doubt many may treat their claims as fanciful, but when Salient interviewed Arnold he refused to be drawn on the topic and would not say what happened to money that is not claimed or is left after someone dies.

Sleeping Around

Arnold claims that only those who want to sleep out go to the Basin Reserve and other such places. But apart from the Night Shelter (which turns people away if they smell of drink), or one of the dilapidated boarding houses like the Clarendon in Hopper Street, flats in Oriental Parade, and the White Lodge, where a fire killed 5 alcoholics about 18 months ago, there are very few other places for the alcoholics to go. They are further hindered by high charges at these boarding houses which can cost as much as $15 a week for just bed and breakfast. Because they dislike places like these many go to crash pads such as Abel Smith Street.

Flowers on the Mantlepiece

These two houses owned by Todd Motors were taken over and settled in by some of these alcoholics who, as they put it ". . . have had enough of the church Arnold, and all the other patronising bastards, who look down their rich noses at us". Although the houses seemed more suitable for demolition than for living in, the men who stay there have improved them beyond recognition. These houses have provided the alcoholics with an opportunity to help themselves, to show people that alcoholics are not just outcasts from the community to be forgotten and disregarded. Two of the rooms have carpet on the floor, fresh paint on the walls, and flowers on the mantle piece. There is still much that needs to be done to make the houses completely habitable, but what they have achieved by themselves is a start.

Police Harassment

After the houses were first established they were regularly visited by the police, fun bursting in three or four times a night. One night they came across an old [unclear: oke] whose balls were badly swollen. The only help they offered was the remark, "Been rooting too much have you?". A further example of police harrassment was a call by a Sergeant and a constable who told one of the men living there that if he ever showed his head outside the house then they would arrest him on the slightest charge.

In previous years the police used to conduct a round-up at Christmas time and most of the alcoholics were sent to Mount Crawford for the summer season, keeping the streets clean and respectable for all the happy holiday-makers. Last Christmas was the first that the men at Abel Smith Street had spent free. Even the police have lately recognised the value of the houses and have taken to picking up drunks off the street and dumping them at Abel Smith Street.

Ambulance drivers have often been a bigger hindrance than the police. One night, not too long ago, one of the men needed urgent hospital treatment. When the ambulance driver arrived he took one look at the men and said, "I drive a free ambulance not a bloody cartage truck". This view is typical of many, especially in the hospitals where the men are often refused admission, because they smell of booze. Such attitudes only make the men more bitter about the established methods of dealing with alcoholism, and bitter about the people such as Arnold who claim to be concerned, but whose methods are distrusted and despised.

Arnold believes that the houses in Abel Smith Street, and the others like them dotted around Wellington, make no contribution at all. "How can they help when they merely allow these men, who are chronic alcoholics, to do their drinking in private?" This is a strange attitude when

Image of a man sitting on a bench

Arnold says that he gives the men just enough money to keep them in a state above being "tipsy". To anyone who has been to these crash pads, the men there seem to be doing much better than they have under the official means of coping with the problem. At least they are receiving all their Social Security benefit and not losing $10 a week to some mysterious bank account for board and rent which they do not get, or for future medical treatment which they are unlikely to receive.

Incinerate the Lot

As one helper said, "You could solve the problem with a can of petrol and incinerate the houses and everybody in them, or you could help set up more houses like those in Abel Smith Street and give these poor bastards a chance to help themselves".

No doubt there are among the middle class those who believe that the established organisations (Arnold and the few church bodies) do a "good job", but many of the alcoholics are dissatisfied with the way he treats them, and the way he handles their money. Their lives may be worth little but they feel that they are entitled to their full Social Security benefit.

One of the men at the houses in Abel Smith Street summed up his feelings towards Arnold, by saying, ". . . people like Arnold aren't interested in the likes of me, they only give you god and take your money. They're a bunch of money making bastards, that's all".