Down but not out

It could happen to any family.

“Many people consider the Night Shelter as the ‘end of the road’, however in our case we think that the Night Shelter has provided a new start for our brother. They’ve been saviours,” says Sally*.

Sally’s family had tried to care for their brother for several years, however when it progressively became too difficult they were left with little option other than to find temporary accommodation for him at the Wellington Night Shelter.

“We had tried everything, if we had put him into a boarding house on his own, I’m sure my brother would have died there.”

According to Sally, “My brother’s case provides a lesson in what can happen to any person, and any family.”

“My brother had a very successful career, I recall walking down the street with him when someone recognised him and called out his name. The person turned out to be one of his old clients and despite his recent rather shabby appearance, she gave him a big hug and exclaimed over and over, ‘you changed my life, you changed my life, how are you? You saved my life.’ “

“I couldn’t help noticing the irony that in his career my brother had ‘saved many lives’ yet now he was descending to the very depths to which he had saved many other people from”, recalls Sally.

For most of his life Sally’s brother had been a ‘good citizen’ working in a very successful senior role in a Government department. The reality was that for much of this time he was what is known as a ‘functioning alcoholic’, able to carry out his job and function in the community as a ‘normal’ person.

Sally and those around him were largely unaware of any concerns until her brother found himself out of work. With the absence of a work focus and with more time on his hands, his drinking began to become excessive.

What little savings he had accumulated slowly disappeared to pay for his addiction. Having no money and needing accommodation he turned to his family. For the first time the family began to appreciate the nature of his issues, and while they supported him with accommodation and other help, his denial that he had a drinking problem, made it very difficult to make real positive change.

“As a society we need to know that every family is vulnerable, every person is vulnerable. We need to understand this vulnerability and have compassion to those in need,” says Sally.

“I never thought my brother would steal, I never thought he would lie, I never thought this was possible, but alcohol changed him”, she recalls.

At one stage, in an effort to make him aware of the nature of his addiction, the family arranged for his children to visit. His daughter showed him an old picture of them in ‘happy times’ and said, “I want this back”. Holding his hand she pleaded with him to change. This last appeal and his subsequent delivery to the Night Shelter by his family, were considered by Sally’s brother as, “the worst times in his life.”

“Without Mike (Manager of the Night Shelter) and his team, we couldn’t have coped, we were giving someone we loved into someone else’s care. The trust I had in Mike and his team was enormous.”

It would be nice to think that Sally’s brother’s life began to change upon his arrival at the Wellington Night Shelter. However things initially got much worse. After a few weeks at the night shelter and after a particularly bad drinking binge he was delivered comatose and in an extremely bereft state to the Wellington hospital by the Night Shelter manager. At first the hospital was reluctant to accept responsibility and sought to discharge her brother, however a vital support team had now formed around him.

This team consisted of Mike Leon (Night Shelter Manager,) Amy Ross (Social Worker with St Vincent De Paul), a Support Worker with CADS (Community Alcohol Drug Service) as well as staff from Pathways (a mental health support service). This team now worked with the medical team at the hospital and successfully had ‘M’ ‘medically detoxed’ over a 5 day period and then transferred to Pathways respite care for a few weeks before being readmitted to the Night Shelter.

Sally’s brother emerged from hospital and Pathways free from alcohol for the first time in many years.

“I don’t know where we would have been without this team”, said an appreciative Sally, “these guys have been saviours.”

Sally’s brother is still an alcoholic although he has now been alcohol free for some time. He has attended his first ‘AA’ meeting and is now living independently in WCC rented accommodation arranged with the help of his support team. For the first time in many years, his future is looking hopeful.

“Through all this, he is still loved, his grandchildren love him dearly. When he crosses the road with them they hold his hand, they look up to him, they trust him to care for them, and we know he loves them. He still has the power to love, and we hope this will bring him through.”


* Sally’s name has been changed to protect privacy.