Sleeping Out for Systemic Change
Monday 31 May 2021
On any given night more than 116,000 people experience homelessness in Australia.
According to data from the most recent census, New South Wales accounts for the largest homeless population of any state with over 37,000 people living without the safety, security and stability of a place to call home.
As Chief Executive Officer of Suicide Prevention Australia, Nieves Murray is fully aware of the link between homelessness and one of the most alarming causes of death in Australia.
It’s because of this – along with a personal experience stemming from childhood – she will take part in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout on 17 June to raise awareness and funds in support of Vinnies’ homelessness services.
Taking up her position with the national peak body for the suicide prevention sector in 2018, Nieves is well versed in research around the issue of suicide.
Citing a 2014 study analysing deaths by suicide among the homeless and non-homeless population in Australia, she laments the findings which show people who are homeless have almost twice the suicide rate as the general population.
While suicide has been framed primarily as a mental health issue, Nieves sees social determinants of wellbeing, such as housing stress, economic hardship and homelessness, as major factors to address in preventing suicide.
“One of the arguments that we take to government on a regular basis is that it’s because we look at it [suicide] through the mental health lens,” Nieves explains.
“It has to be a much broader perspective on solving the issue on suicide, such as housing stability, employment stability and support for people going through relationship breakdown.
“There are really strong indicators that keeping people in secure housing or ensuring that there’s money to put food on the table are vital ingredients in keeping people safe.”
First becoming involved in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout as the convenor responsible for bringing the event to Wollongong nearly a decade ago, the growing number of older people facing homelessness struck a chord due to her work in aged care at the time.
“I had become very aware of the fact that older women in particular, but older people more generally, were increasingly at risk of homelessness, particularly when there was relationship breakdown or the death of a spouse.”
“The most powerful part of the night was hearing the lived experiences of people who were essentially like you and me, who through circumstances, often outside of their control, had ended in a situation that led them to be homeless.”
Going beyond the sleepout by volunteering her time with the Vinnies Van servicing Wollongong and the surrounding area, Nieves’ motivation to continue being involved with the Vinnies CEO Sleepout stems from her childhood.
As the child of Spanish parents who migrated to the Illawarra in the 1960s, her early yearning for permanent housing sparked a resonance with the struggles faced by the men, women and children supported by the funds raised from the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.
“My parents were on lengthy waiting lists for public housing and during that time were living in a room in a person’s house when I was a little kid.
“I remember quite vividly that feeling of searching for a permanent home; I’d be dragged around with mum looking at houses, it wasn’t until I was six-and-a-half before mum and dad actually had a permanent home.
“That was a really formative period of my life.”
The Vinnies CEO Sleepout takes place on Thursday 17 June. You can support Nieves and other business and community leaders by making a donation at ceosleepout.org.au