Barriers to effective human service provision
Lack of trust, long waiting times to access appropriate mental health services, and cross-cultural communication issues are some of the identified problems that have been experienced by Redfern-Waterloo residents when trying to navigate the human services system.
Community advocacy organisation REDWatch hosted a community roundtable at The Factory Community Centre in Waterloo in early May with a focus on human service provision. The roundtable provided residents of the area – particularly those living in social and public housing – the opportunity to discuss either single instances or ongoing issues they had experienced while living in the area.
Human services that were commonly referred to included housing, health and welfare (particularly mental health) and city planning.
Six residents who had engaged with human services spoke about their experiences at the meeting, and these narratives clearly highlighted how inefficiencies in systems can quickly lead to the most vulnerable members of our society slipping through the cracks.
One resident spoke about difficulty in getting housing services to attend to leaking sewerage in their home. The service they reached out to believed that the resident had a mental health problem and implied the sewerage issues were only being imagined by the resident, rather than attending to the property to inspect the issue. This resident experienced a fall and consequent health problems due to the lack of maintenance and was required to move to crisis accommodation after waking one morning to find their own bed covered in sewerage.
Another speaker, who is a long-term resident in social housing, spoke about the long wait times they had experienced to receive a mental health assessment – which was needed in order to access other services and support. During this wait time, no support is available to clients, who are often in heightened states of crisis when first seeking help – and conflicting requirements for eligibility for either the NDIS or other community services mean that receiving adequate long-term support is not guaranteed.
Multiple residents at the meeting spoke about a perceived lack of empathy or humanity from providers when trying to access services.
Representatives from the Chinese- Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking communities spoke about difficulties they experience, for example, when trying to contact emergency services or seeking legal information in the absence of adequate translation services.
Throughout the meeting, residents brainstormed potential responses to the current barriers or inefficiencies in the systems they use. Suggested options for improvement included creating a more comprehensive service guide directory for residents; conducting a human services survey and consulting with residents about their issues; increasing the specialised health services available in the area; and creating a consistent platform for announcement and updates that are available in multiple languages.
There is an undeniable and strong demand for human services, both in the Redfern Waterloo area and in the wider Sydney area. There is also a constant requirement for services to stretch government funding to provide the most services possible, with what seems like an ever-shrinking budget.
Many service workers are doing what they can to provide the best quality of life for their clients, and a number of residents were able to identify particular workers who consistently provided professional and timely services. However, the ongoing need to integrate and optimise service provision should not come at the cost of human dignity and basic rights of health, safety and respect.
The experiences shared by residents at the roundtable indicates that human service provision still has a long way to go in reconciling these needs.
REDWatch meetings are held at 6pm on the first Thursday of the month at The Factory Community Centre, Raglan St Waterloo.