Raising Awareness and Funds for Homelessness: The Vinnies CEO Sleepout Experience


Participating in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout is a deeply humbling experience. As an ambassador for the annual event, I am deeply committed to raising essential funds and awareness for the increasing number of homeless individuals in our community. With the ongoing housing crisis and rising inflation, many people and families are struggling to meet their basic needs. 

The Night of the Sleepout

The Sleepout is held nationwide, and I attended the Sydney event at White Bay Terminal in Rozelle.

We could bring one sleeping bag and the clothing we chose to wear—no creature comforts like heated garments or hot water bottles. I layered up in thermals, a beanie, a scarf, a jumper, and a puffer jacket, and I brought a sleeping bag and earplugs. We slept on a piece of cardboard and had a V-shaped cardboard cover that collapsed as the moisture, dew, and fog set in.

The last two years have been very different. In the first year, we had clear skies, but the "feels like" temperature dropped below zero. Last year, it rained heavily, and the wind was strong.

This year, it was a ‘balmy’ 13 degrees, but as darkness set in and rain was forecast, the priority was to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. No matter how tough the conditions, this experience provided only a tiny sample of what Australia’s homeless endure night after night, sometimes for years on end.

During the Sleepout, Vinnies ran an insightful program to educate us on the challenges faced by those heading into homelessness. We participated in activities where we played the role of someone navigating government red tape, paying bills, and protecting a family while escaping violence or other threats. We met individuals who had broken the homelessness cycle and heard their powerful stories.

At the end of the program, dinner was a bowl of soup, a piece of bread, and a cup of tea. Dessert was a commitment to making a difference before we found our way outside to our cardboard shelter and sleeping bag.

Some managed to sleep (despite the symphony of snoring that echoed across the bay), and as the night got colder, I couldn’t help but spiral into a mix of darkness and gratitude, knowing this was a one-off. In the morning, over bacon and egg rolls and a cup of coffee, I traded sleep stories with my fellow leaders before we headed off to face our respective responsibilities.

There was no need to navigate government red tape or scramble for food as I drove home in my heated car, looking forward to a hot shower. This stark contrast really hits me every year.

The Hidden Faces of Homelessness

The experience sheds light on the new and emerging faces of homelessness: women over 50, double-income families forced to choose between food and housing, and victims of domestic violence who often need medical, psychological, and emotional help. Each year, I think I understand homelessness, only to realise how hidden it truly is.

A staggering 94% of homeless people are not visible—they live in shelters, cars, or couch surf, with whole families often left homeless. Without an address, it's difficult to get a job, welfare, or even renew a driver’s license. 

In 2024, record numbers of people are seeking help and support, pushing demand on all services to the highest levels ever seen. One in three individuals currently reaching out for assistance are doing so for the very first time, illustrating the growing crisis. Australia’s homeless and domestic violence shelters are at full capacity, struggling to meet the overwhelming need. With the cost-of-living skyrocketing, many families face impossible choices between putting food on the table, paying bills, or buying school clothes. The necessity of keeping their homes has become paramount, especially with no vacancies in social housing.

Vinnies, dedicated to making a difference, is working tirelessly to keep up with the increasing demand. They offer help with food and utilities, emphasising the importance of maintaining dignity for those in need.

Despite the rising costs of providing these services, Vinnies remains committed to their ethos of not turning people away; if they cannot help directly, they ensure referrals to other support systems. 

The government has allocated $5.1 billion to social housing, the largest investment ever, but the journey to transform lives continues. Awareness needs to be raised about the diverse and often unseen faces of homelessness, including those affected by drug and alcohol issues, women and children fleeing domestic violence, women over 50, men under 40, and double-income families. The pervasive nature of this crisis demands our collective attention and action.

A Personal Mission

My participation in Vinnie’s CEO Sleepout has always been personal.

When I was a year 11 student at St Leo’s College, we took a Christian Brother’s excursion to visit youth hostels, prisons, and other community services. The profound impact that experience had is still with me today.

The harsh realities of what I saw inspired me into action. I helped establish a Vinnies youth group at school and in Hornsby. I regularly gave up mornings to run dawn patrols in the city, providing essential support to homeless children, men, women, and families, ensuring they had access to food, clothing, and a place to sleep at shelters like the Matthew Talbot Hostel.

To this day, I have always seen my role in the industry as someone who helps people find a place to call home. When you boil it down, we help provide shelter for those who can afford to buy or rent. However, I would love to see the property industry extend its support to those who cannot afford their own place, through volunteering, raising awareness, and fundraising to help charities support the homeless.

Continuing the Support

The work Vinnies Australia is doing is more crucial than ever.

Vinnies' unique approach allows families to receive support without being separated, providing them with dignity. It's not just about offering a meal or a blanket but also about teaching individuals how to rebuild their lives through education, care, and guidance.

Thank you to all those who threw their support behind me and contributed to this much-needed cause. I am dedicated to continuing my support for this crucial cause, and your donation can make a significant impact on the lives of those struggling with homelessness. There’s still time to donate, every dollar makes a difference.

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