15 June 2022

Emergency services sign up for Vinnies CEO Sleepout to help our homeless

| Claire Fenwicke
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Seven men hold up signs supporting Vinnies.

St Vincent De Paul special works director Stuart Davis-Meehan, Canberra Toyota dealer principal Mirko Milic, Snedden, Hall and Gallop Lawyers managing director Richard Faulks, ESA assistant commissioner Wayne Phillips, ACT SES chief officer Anthony Draheim and ACT Fire & Rescue chief officer Matthew Mavity. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Members of Canberra’s emergency services will soon find out what it’s like to sleep rough on our streets in freezing conditions.

ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) personnel will join the Territory’s business bosses for the first time to help raise money for the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.

ACT Fire and Rescue chief officer Matthew Mavity said his reason for joining was “professionally personal”.

“We frequently work with some of our most vulnerable and exposed people,” he said.

“Throughout the city of Canberra, we’ve seen people desperately in need of our help and more frequently they’re not in traditional situations.”

ESA crews respond to a range of incidents that potentially involve the city’s homeless and vulnerable. Situations include grass and bushfires near tents or in other shelters including abandoned buildings.

“We also see some people improvising, particularly as energy costs and housing affordability go up,” Mr Mavity said.

“They’ll improvise their heating, cooling and shelter because they can’t afford to get it serviced. That gap in people’s needs creates a need for us [to respond].”

Despite responding to these situations, Mr Mavity wanted to further understand the circumstances of his fellow Canberrans.

“I’m going to be cold for just one night, but I want people to appreciate that not everyone [in our community] is having a great time of it,” he said.

“I also want [those on the street] to remember we’re there for them if they need help.

“A lot of what we do is also prevention and education. You can drop into fire stations, we can give you advice.”

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Emergency services personnel also assist homeless people through the ESA’s Police Ambulance Clinician Emergency Response (PACER) program.

Established in 2019, the teams assist and support vulnerable people experiencing mental health issues.

PACER co-ordinator and ACT Ambulance operations manager Megan Davis said they worked every day with people who had nowhere to go.

“If we go out and see someone who is homeless, we make sure they’re safe,” she said.

“We assess them from a medical perspective, a mental health perspective, and can refer them on to community pathways. We have links with health services, housing support and emergency accommodation where hopefully we can get them a meal and a warm, dry place.”

Those taking part in the 2022 Vinnies CEO Sleepout will roll out their sleeping bags on the concrete outside the National Portrait Gallery on 23 June.

St Vincent De Paul marketing, fundraising and communications director Phillip Jones welcomed the ESA aboard.

“Canberra has a facade of wealth and wellbeing, but we have 1600 people doing it tough every single night,” he said.

“They live in cars, in other people’s houses, and sometimes they end up on our streets.”

Last year’s event raised a record $1 million, and already more than $200,000 has been donated this year.

“It sounds like lots of money, but we need every cent,” Mr Jones said.

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Money is raised by sponsoring the chief executive officers, including 10-year Sleepout veteran Toyota Canberra dealer principal Canberra Toyota dealer principal Mirko Milic and Region Media’s Michael McGoogan.

“Vinnies is a quiet achiever in my opinion,” Mr Milic said. “They have their night patrol which helps those in need, they’re the invisible helpers in the night.”

He offered this advice for first-timers taking part.

“We’re provided with three pieces of cardboard – I use two as a bed and one as a tee-pee to keep the dew off and make it darker,” he said.

“I tire myself out a few days before and limit my sleep so I’m really tired when the lights go out. I’m absolutely knackered, and I try to go to sleep first.

“Over the years I’ve averaged about three hours a night. I’m pretty happy with that.”

Canberrans are encouraged to show their support by donating to the CEO of their choice. They include Menslink chief executive Martin Fisk and Geocon Group managing director Nick Georgalis.

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