Helping to address the lack of access in our community

Published on Stuff.co.nz / Manukau Courier 

OPINION: I work in a job where I am constantly encouraged to be patient, understanding and compassionate. I often feel embarrassed when I am reminded that I need to stop stressing out or quit complaining because I am very fortunate to have a job, a roof over my head and a supportive circle of family and friends. 

Yet, I am constantly finding myself, sitting across from someone that has not had the privilege of ticking off even one of the things on my gratitude list.

 "How did you get here?" I am curious.

Understandably, it is far too difficult to pinpoint one moment or incident that leads people down this path. What I have learned from these conversations is that we only know and respond to what we have been exposed to.

To paint a clearer picture; if you have continued to walk down a path where there are bright, beautiful street signs, letting you know where you can go, then you are perhaps more likely to reach your desired destination. Alternatively, if the path is unsteady, winding down dark corners and the street signs are blurred or knocked down, it is probably safe to assume that the ride will not be so pleasant. Any attempt to divert your way on to a steadier path proves far more difficult when the only road you have ever known has always been desolate.

Whilst it is important to acknowledge the complexities of unpacking, addressing and treating the underlying issues and struggles that people in our community experience, the analogy above demonstrates that one of the most common and obvious obstacles is the lack of access that vulnerable people in our community have to resources such as adequate housing, health care and education. One effective way of addressing this issue is by encouraging and more importantly, empowering people to learn what services and organisations are available to assist and how they can access them.

I understand that it is far easier to see this issue as one limited to an individual's personal choice however this is an incredibly negligent and unhelpful approach. Viewing this issue in such a way does not ease the discomfort of realising the number of adults that cannot read or write their own names, the number of children being moved to state care because their sole parent does not have an address to be bailed to, the way people from humble and modest backgrounds stay silent, too afraid to ask for help even though they need it the most.

A large amount of the people that I have come across are not aware or do not have the confidence to seek help from incredible organisations such as Auckland Action Against Poverty who can provide advocates to attend Work and Income appointments with you; First Union who can provide employment advocates to assist you with any disputes you are having at work and Community Law Centres that can provide free legal advice.

As this is an issue that we see everyday in our jobs, the Pacific Lawyers Association has organised a Community Support Expo that will bring together all the different organisations from around Auckland for families and people of the community to see what services and assistance they can access.

Stallholders include Community Law Centres, First Union, Auckland Action Against Poverty, Dress for Success, Ōtara Health, Kidz First, tertiary institutions and more. The purpose is to encourage people to learn, engage and feel empowered in their ability to access these resources and opportunities. Although it is only for one day, the hope is that it creates conversations that will lead to long lasting and positive solutions.

I want to live in a compassionate society and the most effective way of demonstrating this is by investing and showing empathy towards those in vulnerable positions. I am not sure about the finer details but sharing information and encouraging them to have the confidence to find their voice is a good place to start.

- The Pacific Lawyers Association Community Support Expo is on Saturday 19 May at the Ōtara Recreational Centre from 10am – 2pm. There will be a free sausage sizzle and activities for children. 

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