Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese REPORT:
17 Jun 2011
Most of the 256 chief executives arriving at Luna Park for the annual Vinnies Sleepout last night were not quite sure what to expect.
For the majority it was their first night "sleeping rough" for charity.
Sure they were dressed for success - but not in their Italian suits and ties.
Smart dress for this night out was a fleecy tracksuit or jumper, beanie and sleeping bag. Plus a good dose of purpose.
Most were surprised to hear from St Vincent de Paul staff that 105,000 men, women and children across Australia are homeless, every night. And the children make up a quarter of that figure.
And like many people with a roof over their head each night, the general perception of homeless is a middle age man sleeping on a park bench with just his bottle of booze for company.
Wrong. Sixty percent of homeless people in this country are under 35 and 340,000 people experience some form of homelessness in any one year - often called rough sleepers or couch surfers.
Last night was all about raising community awareness to the face of homelessness and raising much needed dollars.
And by giving up their three course dinners and soft beds albeit for just one night the chief executives did a mighty fine job.
Supporters of the registered CEOs could contribute to the Sleepout and early this morning the Sydney bosses had raised well over $1.3m.
Commonwealth Bank boss Ralph Norris had raised $126,000 and News Limited CEO John Hartigan had raised $103,000 for the Vinnies appeal.
Also sleeping rough last night was Barnard Boerma, the CEO of the Archdiocese of Sydney's CatholicCare and the CEO of the Archdiocese Catholic Education Office, Dr Dan White.
"One thing that struck me was the awareness that I probably didn't have about homelessness", Dr White said.
"What really hit home was the loneliness of the people," Dr White said. "And how even just a gentle word of recognition - just an acknowledgement of them - just how much that was such an important part of respecting their dignity. I think the other thing that struck me was that I didn't realise the extent of the homelessness among women suffering from abuse, and their children, and that was quite profound. Also that homelessness didn't always mean what you saw visibly on the streets."
"But I think the third thing that doubly impressed me was how the chief executives from the corporate sector articulated a deep moral purpose in their visions for their organisations and their willingness to lift awareness among their staff of the broader social issues as part of their corporate philosophies.
"And that echoed with me as a director of Catholic education as something that we try to instil in our children. I am very taken by how much our schools do in this regard. I scan all our school newsletters regularly and I see there is always something going on to support social justice projects.
"While I do really appreciated the wonderful generosity of our teachers and staff in Catholic education in support of my sleeping 'rough' last night, I am particularly thrilled to see our Mini Vinnies and other groups across our schools getting active in so many interesting and innovative ways to raise money and awareness for such projects. They have been wearing pyjamas to school; dressing up in winter woollies, all kinds of things. And to have raised more than $30,000 - so far - is just a stunning result."
Running a little late from the rough and tumble of Federal Parliament to the rough and cold of a concrete slab was the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Along with everyone else he took his foam cup of vegie soup and breadroll and sat down to hear the stories of a few people Vinnies has helped in the past year. There were others who would not have been around to tell their story if not for Vinnies and their various programs and shelters.
The CEOs heard that homelessness is more than not having a shelter over your head. Homelessness erodes a person's health, hope and dignity.
The homeless are also amongst the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalised people in our community and their voices often go unheard.
Every night Vinnies provides shelter to babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, men and women. Others are helped out with a hot shower, a cup of tea, change of clothes or maybe just someone who will listen to them.
Charities do the best they can with what they have but there is simply not enough accommodation for the disadvantaged.
Around Australia 1001 CEOs tried to make a difference by talking to each other about the problems, looking at ways to effect change in social opinion and raise much needed funds for Vinnies services and programs.That national figure is close to $4m.
Dr Andy Marks, a senior researcher with St Vincent de Paul, said he was astounded with the level of support for the Sleepout.
"There was a lot of new interest and not only in the event which was great but in the overall issue of homelessness," he said.
"I think there is an increasing awareness of the issue and we need to focus on that.
"It was also very good to have a number of people speak about their own personal experience and for the CEOs to realise everyone's story is different and raises different issues."
The CEOs also spoke about how they could use their skills from the corporate world to tackle the homelessness problem.
"The corporate sector could really be the glue between the problem and the government, bringing their experience, new ideas and ways of tackling the problem."
What a group of CEOs and a cold and chilly night can do.
However it still leaves one question. Why do we have 105,000 on the streets every night?