Homelessness is more than not having a roof over your head. It’s about not knowing where you can have a shower, or keep your clothes or even find your next meal. And at this time of year in Canberra, it can be about being very, very cold.
Each year the CEO Sleepout puts successful business and social leaders in that position for just one night, raising funds for Vinnies and their outreach work. This year’s event has been affected by COVID-19: rather than gathering together, the CEOs will choose where to sleep and they’ve been able to involve their families for the first time
Region Media spoke to four prominent local leaders about why they’re taking part.
The ACT’s Australian of the Year is Katrina Fanning. She’ll be bundled up in her sleeping bag tonight, somewhere next to the chook shed, and she points to the rolling consequences of homelessness as her major motivation.
“How do you go to school, get through your lessons without a good night’s sleep and a meal in your stomach? How do you maintain a job if you’re unable to wash your clothes and maintain some of those other routines we all take for granted?
“The multiplying effect of having nowhere safe to stay is that your connection to community and family is compromised”.
In 2018/19, almost 4000 Caberrans sought help for homelessness, a total of about 90 Canberrans in every 10,000, a slight decline on previous years.
The ACT Government’s Specialist Homelessness Services unit says that around 1000 of these people were actually homeless, while the remainder were in precarious situations and at an urgent risk of losing their homes.
“Being able to help services providing the first steps in the pathways to permanent housing is critical for any of those other things to have an impact,” Katrina says.
Kamy Saeedi from Kamy Saeedi Law will be accompanied by his son, and his starting point is to acknowledge that for most, Canberra is a fortunate place in a fortunate country. But he wants young Zak to know that’s not the case for everyone.
“It’s easy to not notice and forget what’s going on. I’m hoping Zak gets a bit more awareness that we are very lucky where we are but also not to forget others and whatever he can do to help, particularly in a hard year like this”, he says.
Youth homelessness can have a particularly devastating effect in Canberra, where crisis shelters cannot take in unaccompanied children under the age of 16. In 2019, the Conflict Resolution Service worked with 462 young people at risk of becoming homeless and has seen a concerning increase in the number of young people below the age of 15 at risk in the past few years.
Menslink CEO Martin Fisk says that’s worrying because homeless youth develop “a real sense of disadvantage and low self-esteem that’s really hard to come back from”.
“We know homeless people have constant levels of fear,” Martin says. “We’ll be sleeping out in the safety of our cars tonight, but if you’re sleeping rough or don’t know where you’ll spend the night, you get none of that. The longer that happens with kids, the more they lack stability and that can create a lifelong set of damages”.
NSW Scouts Chief Commissioner Neville Tompkins is a CEO sleepout veteran: he’s been one of the event’s most successful fundraisers for years and already has $20,000 pledged for Vinnies. His many decades with Scouts have given him a focus on developing leadership skills but also self-esteem and resilience.
“If we can develop those skills amongst our young people, we can set them up for life”, he says. “But if they are denied those opportunities through homelessness they are disadvantaged, and most likely for life”.
To learn more, visit CEO Sleepout.