This year was my first ever Vinnies CEO Sleepout, and it’s fair to say it was a very humbling and touching event.
Having reached my fundraising target of $5,000 (thanks again to everyone whose kindness made that possible), I put on as many layers as I could and headed off to White Bay Terminal for the event. I guess I’d imagined the night was a bit like an adult camp-out, but it was oh so much more.
From the moment you arrived and collected your Vinnies bag (which I’m proud to say included a scarf for those who had reached their fundraising target), you were sent on a series of activities to open your mind (and heart) to some truly amazing individuals.
My circle session was with Meghan. She had found herself homeless when her landlord wanted to renovate and she simply could not find another place for her and her two teenage children to live. How could it be that a woman who was able to pay rent, could find herself homeless? The answer was a housing shortage resulting in vacancies dwindling to just 1%.
Meghan had tried to find a place far and wide, and her options for a shelter were limited by the fact that she had a teenage son. Despite being barely 13, he was considered too old to be housed in a women’s shelter and the choice for Meghan was to either split her family up—sending her son alone to a men’s shelter—or Vinnies.
Thankfully, Vinnies could house the family until they could find a place of their own.
To meet Meghan was a privilege. This brave mum had been through so much hardship, despite all her efforts to keep her family safe, warm and housed. As she told us, ‘how can you give your child nutritious meals when you don’t have a fridge, let alone a kitchen.’
In my group, among many leaders of large corporations was the Deputy Premier of NSW, John Barilaro. He was there to listen, too. And that became the theme of the night. As those who have the power to influence change, our job was not to pretend a night in the cold would help us know what it means to be homeless—ours was to listen, to hear the stories of people—just like you and me—for whom homelessness had become their only option.
After our circle with Meghan, we were then able to spend some time with Vinnies volunteers. This was our chance to ask questions and gain a better understanding of what their support services mean on a day to day basis. It’s hard not to be blown away by these incredible people. They clearly work so hard.
By now, I’d been carrying my bags and sleeping bag for about 30 minutes and I was ready to make my bed. With my cardboard down and my pillow laid, we were back for the formalities, which included several speeches from people whom Vinnies had helped.
It opened with a video of a grandmother who found herself homeless in her 80s after her husband had died and her kids kicked her out. Ouch! That was the first teary moment for me. At this point I’m angry and sad and wondering how on earth our society got to this point. By the time we’ve heard that female homelessness increased by 50% since the last census, I feel enraged.
But, as I listen to the stories, what I also see is that the solution is right in front of us. Vinnies helps people get through the impossible moments. They keep people’s dignity intact when society places them in the most undignified places—without the safety and security of their own home.
It’s fitting that the New South Wales government has just declared housing is a right, not a privilege, and it’s up to each of us to make that the reality. Homelessness is as complex and as varied as each person’s story. There’s no one solution, but the only way we can help is by being supportive, taking action and having compassion.
The Vinnies CEO Sleepout is an amazing event. It’s not about mimicking homelessness, it’s about gaining greater insights and empathy for the people who have experienced it. Nobody is immune to life changing events. Sickness does not discriminate, and there are many, many circumstances beyond our control. But, what we can do is pause, reflect, attempt to understand and use these profound stories to motivate us into action.
I am so thankful for the support my fundraising received. Mine is not a big business, but if we can raise $5,000, then I believe most businesses can. As for the night—it was so wet, so cold and I couldn’t wait to get in my uber! But, while I walk away having not slept, I feel very confident that the money raised will help many incredible people, who just need compassion when life has dealt them a difficult hand.
We all have a responsibility as a community to care. It’s so easy in our fast, stressful lives to forget.
The Vinnies CEO Sleepout is a chance to pause, and to remember. By donating, not only are you sending a message to people in the most vulnerable positions that they are not alone, you’re showing charities like Vinnies, whose volunteers are frankly superheroes, that they are not alone either.
The stunt, if you like, of having wealthy folk sleep rough may just be a tool to raise awareness and gain attention, but the real power of the Vinnies CEO Sleepout is the coming together of people from all walks of life, who are able and willing to make our community better.
If you haven’t shown your support, please do. The Vinnies CEO Sleepout raises desperately needed funds that have a year round impact on people who are facing heart-breaking circumstances.
Housing isn’t a privilege, it’s a right—and right now, we have the power to help many more people gain a safe and secure place to sleep tonight, so let’s do it.