Sleeping with Tony Abbott and Ralph Norris was not an idea that had ever crossed my mind - which will no doubt come as a relief to them and my wife - but for a good cause it was worth that morning after feeling. Last night Ralph, Tony and I, along with hundreds of other CEOs and leaders, forsook the comfort of our own beds to sleep out at Luna Park. We braved the winter weather for the CEO Sleepout, in aid of homeless charity Vinnies, to raise money and awareness of homeless issues.
By the time we arrived at Milsons Point the rain had stopped and the skies were clear, which I have to say was a great relief. After registration and tagging (to make sure we didn't leave half way through the night), we were given our ration of three sheets of cardboard and sent off to find a spare bit of ground. I found a spot with John, the CEO of Target, just across from the dogems. With no time to get comfortable, we were ushered off to dinner - soup and a stale bread roll.
After the meal we spent time listening and talking to people who had lived on the streets. Thankfully, because of their courage and the support of Vinnies, they are now re-building their lives. Their stories were truly inspiring.
It was then time to hit the sack. I can't say it was warm or comfortable last night but, for me, it was just one night. It wasn't spent near a rowdy bar or where I felt vulnerable to verbal or physical abuse (even though it may have been tempting for one or two CEOs to have had a go at the CEO of CHOICE!). But it was cold, which explains why according to a recent Common Ground report, the homeless in Sydney have higher rates of injury because of cold and wet weather (21 per cent) than their New York counterparts (14 per cent).
Three things really hit home last night:
- The sheer scale of homelessness in Australia - estimated to be more than 105,000 people (of which 12 per cent are under 12 years old);
- That homelessness is chronic - in Sydney the same Common Ground report found the average length of time the most vulnerable people live on the streets is 11 years compared to 5 years in New York;
- The fact that it could happen to anyone. All of the people we met last night fell down on their luck and things spiralled out of control; they were from families like yours and mine.
So, good on Tony, Ralph and the others for roughing it for one night and raising nearly $4m in sponsorship so far. But, more so, well done to Vinnies who day in, day out, support people wanting to turn their lives around. I came away from last night feeling more impassioned that we must end street homelessness, we must provide more support for those in most need and we must do that by doing more ourselves, but also giving politicians permission to do more on behalf of the country.
Would you like to help? Donate to Vinnies.
Homelessness: the big picture
The figures listed above are ‘valid’ requests: the government only records people who approach their official services. In all likelihood the number is higher. All statistics are taken from Australia's national agency for health and welfare statistics and information (AIHW).