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Sallies say Key wrong on car visits

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 3/06/2016 By Sarah Robson

The Salvation Army says Ministry of Social Development officials haven't accompanied them on visits to homeless people living in cars in south Auckland.

The correction comes after Prime Minister John Key on Thursday said a number of people living in cars who were spoken to by MSD and the Salvation Army refused their help.

"MSD and the Sallies went around and knocked on, I think, eight cars that they could find. All eight of those people refused to take support either from Sallies or from MSD," he said.

The Salvation Army says that's not right and it had in fact declined an offer from MSD to accompany them.

"MSD officials did not accompany Salvation Army social personnel to Bruce Pulman Park last Monday night as part of the army's regular visits to the site," the Salvation Army said.

Some of those who the Salvation Army help have a "deep distrust" of officials and the organisation said it fears its relationships with those people may have been put at risk because of the incorrect information about MSD's involvement.

The Salvation Army added that they don't knock on people's car windows, rather it has a van from which food, water and toiletries are made available and where access to social services and advocacy can be arranged.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister said Mr Key's comments were based on advice given to him.

"The point he was making is that people have been approached and offered assistance and a large number of them have refused," the spokeswoman said.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said Mr Key should apologise.

"He went out of his way to try to make these homeless people look bad by saying they declined government help.

"The prime minister owes those people, the Salvation Army and all New Zealanders an apology."

Meanwhile, MSD has responded by saying it is continuing to support local community organisations who are going out in "mobile squads" to offer help to the homeless.

"The help is there and this is one way we can make sure those needing it are getting it," MSD's Auckland regional commissioner Blair McKenzie said.

MSD said to date it has approached 15 people living in cars. One person, who was not homeless, has chosen to engage further with MSD.

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