It’s confronting not being able to pay your way

A health crisis is one of the most common life events that brings people into contact with Vinnies Victoria and this was how we met Ross* and Peggy*, through Martin Rowen, one of our tireless volunteer leaders.

Through his conference role, Martin assists people with medical and utility bills, rent arrears, food costs, bus fares and car repairs, to name a few. He first met Ross in 2018 when he began dialysis and was awaiting a kidney transplant, which was successfully carried out early in 2020. 

The couple’s life was turned upside down by Ross’ illness. Peggy was forced to leave her university job to become his full-time carer, and Ross’ successful career has been on hold for more than two years. 

Rather than receiving disability support, Ross was put on Newstart, which sent them into poverty. In the end, with Martin’s help, they took their case to their local Federal Government minister. This was an added stress, but after almost three years on Newstart, Ross was finally moved on to a disability benefit.

“Applying for entitlements, let alone fighting for them, is difficult when you are going through health challenges,” says Peggy. “Especially if you’re not used to the system and all the hoops you have to jump through.”

The couple, who have a son, hated facing financial challenges for the first time in their lives.

“It’s confronting not being able to pay your way. We’ve always taken pride in our careers, and capacity to provide for our family’s needs,” says Peggy.

Martin’s help with bills, food vouchers and medical expenses was instrumental, but Vinnies also helped pay for the couple to travel interstate to attend a close relative’s funeral.

“That was extraordinary,” says Peggy, because as an Aboriginal couple, it was very important to their family and community that they attended. “A lot of protocols came into play,” she says. “It’s an important part of cultural practice for us, and Martin developed a deep understanding of that.” 

Martin also helped Ross and Peggy apply for utility bill relief and to take a case to the energy ombudsman after they received a gas bill for more than $3,000, which they discovered was related to a leak outside their house. 

Peggy said, “It was overwhelming because I didn’t know where to go or what to do, but Martin was on it straight away.”

Peggy also said that Martin was a great source of emotional support too during long conversations over coffee. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what your station, everybody needs help at least once in their life,” says Peggy. “It’s what makes us human and I have a lot more faith now in those fellow humans who have reached out to us, such as Martin and Vinnies. 

“When you’re in the trenches, the battle feels like it will last forever. But Martin was like a strong breeze that came down to say ‘you’re not alone’.”

“It has meant so much to know that Martin cares about what happened to us,” she adds. “We have been lucky that at the time when we needed help, no-one better than Martin and Vinnies could have come along.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities