Colin Biggers & Paisley was recently successful in assisting an elderly homeless man referred to us by the Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) social work team.
Colin has been homeless for most of his adult life. He emigrated from post-war Germany in 1949 with his parents, who were Russian and Ukrainian Jews. He left home at a young age due to a difficult home life and has had no further contact with family since then.
For the past decade, Colin has been sleeping rough in the Mosman area of Sydney. He is well known to local residents and owners of local shops and cafes, who have looked out for him over the years, bringing him food, books, blankets, a mobile phone and an Opal card. He has undertaken occasional cash-in-hand jobs and during poor weather he takes shelter from the rain and cold in a local resident's garage. Otherwise, he sleeps in a staircase at the oval at Balmoral Beach.
No proof of identity to apply for assistance following cancer diagnosis
A few months ago, Colin reluctantly admitted himself to RNSH after his friend convinced him to seek medical treatment for a sore throat and fatigue. He was diagnosed with a base of tongue cancer and began receiving palliative radiotherapy as an in-patient. The medical and social work teams at RNSH advised that it would not be safe for Colin to be discharged back to the staircase where he lived before his admission given his ongoing health needs and poor prognosis.
However, as Colin had been living off the grid for most of his life and had not engaged or received any assistance from government agencies, he had no digital record nor any hard copy ID documents. Further, as he had no fixed address, he could not prove he was an Australian citizen. Without documents he was ineligible to even apply for assistance. He needed to show 100 points of ID to start the process to get a Medicare card, Centrelink, and a bank account, so he could be discharged into supported accommodation where he could be assisted with the management of his medical issues.
, a graduate in our Pro Bono and Responsible Business team, worked together with Maryanne Pollifrone
, a senior associate in our Wills and Estates team, to finalise Power of Attorney and Guardianship documents so that Colin could elect someone to take care of his financial and medical/health, lifestyle, and accommodation decisions if he became unable to do so himself. Given our client's diagnosis, this was imperative.
Karlena then helped Colin start the process of getting a Medicare card, a pension and move into supported accommodation. This proved very challenging as our client had nothing to show who he was and therefore couldn't apply for any of these documents.
Karlena worked with the RNSH social work team to navigate how to obtain proof of citizenship for our client to then be able to progress through the ID minefield. While this was happening, Colin was being treated as an "unlawful citizen" at RNSH and as he had no Medicare card a considerable debt was building for his treatment.
The process of getting proof of citizenship was difficult, and involved searches of the National Archives where records were found showing our client's arrival in Australia and his naturalisation as an Australian citizen in the 1950s. However, these records were in the name he came to Australia with and not the name he currently uses or any of his previous names (or spellings).
Karlena spent countless hours on the phone to various Commonwealth departments trying to work within a process that our client fell outside of due to his unconventional life and circumstances. She enlisted the help of the Balmoral community with local residents providing statutory declarations, and conducted searches to piece together Colin's life.
Through sheer perseverance we finally had success; Colin received his proof of citizenship documentation, which enabled us to advocate for his other ID documents. Shortly after, Colin received a Medicare card, opened a bank account, applied for the pension, and was able to access supported accommodation when he was discharged from hospital. Out of all his newfound ID, Colin is most proud of his Seniors Opal card.
"Colin is an absolute joy. He has a sharp mind and sense of humour, a true gentleman," said Tamara Sims, Head of Pro Bono & Responsible Business
. "It was a pleasure for our team to meet and assist him through a seemingly hopeless situation to where he is now. He has touched our lives as much as he has clearly touched the lives of the Balmoral community he has lived in for so long."
We are proud of this outstanding outcome that truly changed the course of Colin's life. He now has his own room (with a balcony) at an aged care facility looking over the beach. He comes and goes as he pleases and his friends from the Balmoral community visit him regularly.