Brisbane bag man Ziggy’s mission to access his money in the bank shines a light on homeless struggle

Zbygnew Wilczek has lived for years in parks in the western suburbs of Brisbane, among dozens of plastic bags, cardboard boxes and umbrellas.

Better known as Ziggy the Bagman, the gray-haired character is well known around town and generally likes to be left alone.

But recently his friends reached out to ABC Radio Brisbane’s Rebecca Levingston – Ziggy needed help.

Specifically, he needed help accessing the money he held in an NAB account.

“I have over $20,000 but I can’t access it to pay anyone. I can’t access it to get one of these cards,” he said, before telling Levingston that he hadn’t visited a bank for at least eight years.

“National Bank, they make it so difficult and they also make me look like a real pig-type person, a freak who just uses people and wants to steal from them. And I’m not made like that.

“The manager said their way was that they couldn’t come here.

“They probably pass by here from time to time and they still don’t know who I am.”

Ms Jones says NAB has procedures in places to help refugees, those fleeing domestic violence or other vulnerable people access banking services.(ABC News: Nic MacBean)

Ziggy said he was told by an NAB employee to go to a branch to have the necessary paperwork sorted so he could withdraw cash, but the old man preferred to stay away, saying that he wouldn’t go in a “suit and tie”.

“Just come here with the papers, so I can sign [them]so that everything can start to come out and [we don’t] have to touch because of corona [virus]. I’m very afraid of that.

“I’m almost 70 and I don’t want to die yet. I still have a lot of life.”

The priority of the bank to keep the money safe

Levingston reported Ziggy’s story to the bank, and NAB Retail executive managing director Krissie Jones said it was “very important” customers were able to access banking services.

“Sandra from our team went to see Ziggy and they were able to figure out a solution that will work for him,” she said.

“He was really happy that he was able to have an option whenever he needed to access his money.”

Ziggy was not only concerned about his own situation, he worried that other vulnerable people would also struggle to access essential services.

Ms Jones said the pandemic had definitely revealed that sometimes “not everyone wants to go to a branch to get their money or [they] are not capable of it”.

She said NAB offered ATMs and services to Australia Post for deposits and withdrawals and computer-savvy customers could use internet banking or the NAB app.

“However, in some cases, and you can imagine refugees coming into the country from Ukraine, for example, or clients who might be fleeing domestic violence or even natural disasters, that sometimes it’s really tricky and not everyone has the right, conventional ID on them,” Ms Jones said.

“So we have alternative options in those scenarios.

“We have a customer service center that really supports customers in these different and unique situations, to make sure we can identify them because we want to make sure we’re keeping people’s money safe, but once they are identified, to provide them with access to their money.”

Vulnerable people need support, know-how

Access to social, banking and other services was often overwhelming for people on the streets or without strong support, said Rees Maddren, service manager for Anglicare Southern Queensland’s INSYNC Youth Services.

He said Centrelink and bank staff often followed their organization’s rules and could not help.

“Now, in particular, Centrelink has social workers who, once they know someone is homeless, start to go beyond what they usually do,” Mr Maddren said.

“If they come to an organization like us, we start to negotiate an identity document, we have to accompany them to obtain documents, to have a birth certificate reissued, to open a bank account.

“If I had a wish list for banks or whatever, it would be if you find out people are homeless, make concessions and have some understanding.

“Connect them with someone who can help navigate the system.”