Vinnies CEO Sleepout - more than a fundraiser

Jack de Groot, CEO St Vincent de Paul Society NSW

Thursday will be my first Vinnies CEO Sleepout. I’ll be joining over 360 fellow CEOs in Sydney. We’ll be aiming to raise $2.1 million. In cities across Australia, including Wollongong and Newcastle, there will be 1500 of us. 

The money we will raise from one uncomfortable night on a damp cricket pitch goes towards the services we offer people across the state who are experiencing homelessness, or who are at risk of homelessness. The awareness we raise that night is priceless and can change the perspectives and attitudes of all who attend.

One of the reasons behind homelessness is a broken, unfair and unaffordable housing system. We need more social and affordable housing. After years of neglect from various Governments, social housing for very low income earners (income up to $36,100 p.a.) cannot cope with ever-increasing demand. Housing NSW estimates that the current supply of social housing only meets 44 per cent of the need and the waiting list is growing.

Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot this year found less than one per cent of the properties they reviewed were affordable for pensioners and those on other Centrelink benefits, or those earning the minimum wage.

Those on moderate incomes (less than $86,700 p.a.) are almost as badly off when it comes to finding affordable rental property, especially for key workers to rent close to where they work.

When rental prices eat into earnings, to the point where accommodation costs reach over 30 per cent of income, housing stress kicks in and with it, all the incumbent vulnerabilities. It doesn’t take much to lose the roof over your head. A chronic illness, coupled with the loss of a job, family breakdown, violence or trauma. All too often, alcohol and drugs become a crutch, a way to cope with demons and the isolation and dislocation of homelessness. One out of every four people who received assistance from a specialist homelessness agency last year was experiencing a current mental health issue–that’s more than 72,000 people.

The services provided to people who are facing homelessness are limited. Many are run by charities like Vinnies and rely heavily on donations.

At the Sleepout the CEOs will find out more about the situation facing disadvantaged people who are fast running out of options. They will gain insight into why early intervention is crucial to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place and how to sustain people as they try to return to a regular life. They need housing and they need services.

Yes, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout is only one night. But a lot can happen in one night. Not only does each CEO have a commitment to raising a minimum of $5000 but they leave in the morning, stiff and tired, armed with the knowledge that will better inform their decisions and  can impact the lives of many, through their networks, as employers, and as leaders of their communities.  

The generous financial contribution from the CEOs enables Vinnies to run early intervention programs and support services. Significantly, their voices can influence the policy direction around housing affordability and the long term future of our country. After a cold night of little sleep and much contemplation they can rethink, relate, and respond to homelessness and help keep those most vulnerable in our society from becoming another statistic.