Handicapped Tom Stian being pressed to go back into being welfare-dependent

I know Tom Stian personally. He was my colleague while undergoing further studies as a legal secretary in 2009, and among those I really admired mainly because he never let his being confined to a wheelchair (he has cerebral palsy) get in the way of whatever he wants to accomplish. I was genuinely happy for him when I heard the news that he finally landed a permanent job at the university hospital in Tromsø, which is why I am equally pissed when I read the article in Nordlys, the local newspaper there… Well, I am not pissed with the newspaper nor with the author of the article, but with the local government in Tromsø, specifically with the housing department.

The story is, my colleague is renting an apartment there, but because his landlord has sold the unit, he has now until 1. June to move out and find someplace else to live. Not an easy task, considering the present situation in the real estate market up there. So, he went to the city government’s housing department to ask for assistance in finding a place to live. Here in Norway, the government is required by law to assist persons having difficulties procuring a home for themselves, most especially when these difficulties arise as a result of physical disabilities. Anyway, all my colleague wanted was some help to find a suitable place he could lease within the deadline that was given him. He was not asking to be given an apartment to live in at the city government’s expense. But the way the city government housing department responded to his request was nothing short of shocking. One consultant there even asked, albeit indirectly, if he couldn’t just resign from his new job and go back here in Trondheim! I mean, here is a person who has been trying to make himself into a productive member of society despite his disability, has newly succeeded, and all they could offer him when he asked for a little help is to suggest that he go back into being welfare-dependent again?? And it gets even worse when the head of the city government’s housing department, Roar Stangnes, tried to defend the manner in which they are handling the case. He explained that in order to be given a communal apartment, (1) one has to have an immediate need for a place to stay, i.e. absolutely homeless and (2) the supplicant must have been a registered inhabitant of the city in question for at least 6 months. In short, my colleague has no right for a communal apartment because (1) he still has a roof over his head until June—I guess they want to wait until he is completely homeless before they do something, if anything at all; and (2) he has just moved in Tromsø last January, which means Tom Stian will have to wait at least until July before the city government will be willing to help him at all… And again, here Mr. Stangnes completely missed the point: Tom Stian was not asking to be given a communal apartment, he was and still is asking for a little help in finding a suitable place for him to live in, which he could pay for by himself.

I’m sorry if I’m sounding a little too agressive here. I’m just fed up with this current trend I’m seeing in government offices here, whether local or national. It seems to me that they are only too willing to provide help to those who don’t need it, and are only seeking to abuse the system, while denying those who really need it and whose intentions to become a productive member of society are genuine. I mean, I really can empathize with my colleague here, as I’ve had a similar experience some years back. I was a fresh graduate from our legal secretarial course, and was actively applying for whatever office job I could find advertised. After almost a year and God-knows-how-many applications, I wasn’t getting anywhere. So, I decided to seek help from the local Labor and Welfare management office (Ny Arbeid- og Velferdsforvaltning, or NAV in Norwegian). I thought, it worked in 2005, when I was new in Norway—that’s how I was able to work in a museum (Sverresborg Trøndelag Folkemuseum). It wasn’t a job sensu strictu, but more like an internship—I work normal hours everyday, but it wasn’t the museum that pays me, but NAV, and at about half the normal salary, because it was just supposed to be an «allowance». Anyway, the arrangement worked in that this was how I got a real job working on a project in the same museum, where they paid me the normal salary, some years later. So, I was thinking NAV could help me again find a place to do an internship, and neither NAV nor the company that would be willing to take me in need pay me anything this time since I already have a part-time permanent job at the post office as well… I was only after the experience of working as a (legal) secretary, thus I was basically willing to work for free. NAV’s answer: a thundering «NO». They reasoned that the program with the internship is only for new immigrants and/or those who have no jobs at all. And as if to soften the blow, they added that, should I lose my job for some reason, then they will be in a position to help with my request. The bottom line: I have to lose (quit, get fired, laid out, or disabled) my job at the post office first before they will do anything! Sheesh, talk about short-sightedness 😒

For those interested, you can read the original article in Nordlys here: Handikappede Tom Stian (26) mener at kommunen ønsker å presse ham tilbake på trygd. Below is the translated version:

Handicapped Tom Stian Bru (26), who moved to Tromsø to work, believes the community (city government) wants to force him back into being welfare-dependent.

After being unemployed and having applied for 110 different jobs, Tom Stian Bru (26), who suffers from cerebral palsy (CP), finally got himself a permanent job as administrative consultant at the university hospital in North Norway.

Short-term happiness

In January, he moved contentedly from Trondheim to Tromsø, ready to start in his new job. But his happiness became short-lived. Only a month and a half later, his leasing contract was terminated by his landlord due to unforeseen personal reasons.

He has to move out on the 1st of June. Then he would be without shelter, facing the city’s already hard pressed real estate market. Which is why he requested the city government for assistance in his house-hunting. According to him though, there is very little help from the city government’s housing department.

«I have been asked indirectly if I could just resign from my job and move back to Trondheim,» narrated a shocked Bru to Nordlys.

«I feel they are trying to force me back into welfare,» he continues.

«Tromsø is a winter town»

The guidelines in the health- and care services law requires the city government to assist in providing housing for persons who are unable to look after their own interests in the real estate market. This includes finding houses which are tailored, and provided with help and protective measures for persons who might need them, i.e. persons with handicap.

«The consultant pointed out to me that Tromsø is a winter town, and that, as a wheelchair user, I didn’t make it easy for myself by moving here,» he claims.

Bru believes the manner in which the city government handled the (his) case has been unacceptable.

«They make things very complicated, and are of little help to me. They have not at all been helpful in filling out different application forms, which I needed help in doing,» says Bru.

Complicated solutions

The 26-year-old is not happy with the city government’s recommended solutions either.

«The suggestions I received were improbable. Among other things, they suggested I move into a hotel which I have to pay for out of my own pocket,» he informs us.

Another suggestion was to apply for a housing loan at Husbanken, and buy his own apartment.

«The problem is that the processing could take so long that I wouldn’t make it to the deadline I was given.”

Now he is afraid he would be forced to make a temporary solution that is not entirely suited to his needs.

«We have not rejected the applicant»

The head of the city government’s housing department, Roar Stangnes, says they are not finished processing the case yet.

«It is not correct to say that we have rejected the applicant. On the contrary, we said we will process his application despite the lack of the required residency in the community, and the fact that he is financially okay. In general, there are many applicants in very difficult situations that it is a challenge finding a solution to all,» says Stangnes.

He also denies the city government has broken the law in this (Bru’s) case.

«It is correct that the community has a duty to help those having difficulties in the real estate market, but this does not encompass a duty to give him a house. The duty to provide a house is true only in cases where the applicant does not have a place to stay for the night, which is not the case here. As I understand it, he has a place to stay until the 1st of June,» says Stangnes.

The housing department chief further stresses that, according to the city government’s regulations, one has to be a registered resident of Tromsø at least 6 months in order to be given a communal apartment/house.

«If the applicant has earnings that indicates he can rent in the private market or even buy his own apartment/house, his application to rent a communal apartment/house will normally be rejected. For those who were referred to buy their own apartment/house, the city government is willing to help with a starting loan if they can’t get a housing loan in an ordinary bank.»

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