Her hips will probably ache on the cold concrete and she may be rained on, but ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum says sleeping rough for just one night will make her stop and think about what homeless Canberrans experience every night.
On 22 June, Chief Justice McCallum will join more than 120 business and community leaders for this year’s Vinnies CEO Sleepout to raise crucial funds for vulnerable Canberrans.
“I’m a little bit worried about how my hips will handle the cold ground,” she says.
“But that’s the whole point. You lie there with your hips on a cold path and think about how people do this, through no choice of their own, every night – feeling cold and unsafe.
“It does make you stop and think what would it feel like sleeping under a bush, wondering if kids are going to come and roll you, or getting rain on.”
The head of the ACT Supreme Court has already raised more than $23,000 and she’s hoping to top the Canberra leaderboard before she rolls out her sleeping bag at The Garden of Australian Dreams at National Museum of Australia on the shortest day of the year.
Chief Justice McCallum admits she’s competitive in a “friendly, mischievous way” and says she still has a few cards up her sleeve to pip front runner Neville Tomkins from Scouts Australia.
“Over the next couple of weeks I’ll razzle the bar association. I would very much like to come in as the top fundraiser,” she says.
After starting with a goal of $12,000, a generous donation of $10,000 from Canberra Airport owner Terry Snow kicked off Chief Justice McCallum’s fundraising efforts.
She is encouraging other business leaders to sacrifice a night of comfort and use their high profiles to raise awareness and bring home the realities of homelessness.
“Nothing feels quite so good as doing something good for other people,” she says.
“If someone is a CEO, they’ve probably got to a position where they’ve achieved well in their life and it’s probably time to pay it forward. They’ve got that fundraising capacity because they mix with people of means.”
Chief Justice McCallum sees first-hand the harsh reality for many people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage in our community, particularly in the criminal space.
“The thing that always strikes me is that people who reach that circumstance are almost never there due to any fault of their own,” she says. “It’s usually because of things that have happened to them or because of mental illness.
“Some people sleep rough due to mental health, but I can’t help but think they wouldn’t if they had more support.
“We have so many problems due to a lack of funding to provide support for people who desperately need support. Government resources are spread thin, so then it unfortunately falls to charities such as Vinnies to fill that gap.”
Growing up with a social worker mum, Chief Justice McCallum says she has been brought up to be mindful of how lucky she is. She’s taken part in numerous community fundraisers, including a 100 kilometre Coast Trek and 50 kilometre run for the Fred Hollows Foundation.
The CEO Sleepout comes at a time when Vinnies is seeing more people in the ACT and surrounding region experiencing homelessness and disadvantage. And the charity is bracing itself for a new wave of people feeling the impact of the high cost of living and housing.
Deb Wybron, 59, from Canberra, found herself homeless 11 years ago after a relationship breakdown but has managed to get back on her feet with the help of Vinnies Street to Home program.
“I found myself in a terrible domestic violence situation, so I lost the home I bought,” Deb explains.
“On the 24th of June 2012 I was evicted from my home and it was put up for auction.
“I didn’t fight for it because I just couldn’t believe my partner was doing that, and I became homeless.”
The former social worker says with the help of Vinnies, she is “starting again”.
“I don’t believe I could ever, ever have done that without Street to Home’s constant case management, continual checking and support of me,” Deb says.
“We can’t judge all these people out there, and especially 55-year-old women… they’ve got nothing. They’re the ones I’m finding out there sleeping rough.
“If you don’t have a home, then you lose heart, you lose everything.”
The Vinnies CEO Sleepout is a no-frills event. There are no airbeds, luxury bedding, hot water bottles or other creature comforts.
Each year, the money raised helps to provide crisis accommodation, food, healthcare, counselling, education and support to find a permanent home.
There’s still time for leaders to jump on board and join this year’s sleepout. You can sign up or sponsor the Canberra leaders aiming to raise $800,000 in 2023.