When Mirko Milic discovered two of his staff members were sleeping in their vans, it drove home how ‘invisible’ Canberra’s homeless problem really is.
The Canberra Toyota dealer principal and Vinnies CEO Sleepout veteran says ‘invisible homelessness’ is a genuine problem in our community.
Mirko has just completed his 10th sleepout, placing third on the fundraising ladder and bringing in more than $42,222 to provide crisis accommodation, food, healthcare and support for Canberra’s homeless.
While he’s always been passionate about the important work Vinnies does, Mirko says when he recently found out two of his staff were homeless, but still getting up and coming to work each day, the message really hit home.
“It was a shock to hear this,” he says. “Invisible homelessness is one of Canberra’s biggest problems.
“You might see the odd person sleeping on a bench, but most couch surf, sleep in their cars or rely on short-term accommodation in shelters when escaping a domestic violence situation. These are the people we need to be helping.”
Mirko says the two staff members were fit young guys – an apprentice and a technician – who were sleeping in their vans and going to the gym to shower and get ready for work each day.
“It was a real eye-opener to learn this was happening under my workplace roof,” he says.
This year, 162 CEOs from all across Canberra slept out in the cold at the National Arboretum on 17 June.
They raised a record $1,037,151 which Mirko says is “remarkable” compared to other cities around Australia, and given Canberra’s smaller population.
During the past 10 years, Mirko has raised more than $179,000 and he’s proud to keep supporting Vinnies volunteers, who he calls the “quiet achievers” that help thousands of homeless men, women and children every night.
He believes a lot of Canberra businesses have been fortunate during the past 12 months, and says the COVID-19 pandemic has driven up car sales and building and retail spending in the ACT, putting CEOs in a good position to attract support from their sleepout supporters.
A Ronald McDonald House Charities Canberra and South East board member, Mirko’s Lexus dealership has also been a major sponsor of the charity’s gala ball in Canberra for the past seven years.
Held in March, this year’s event raised $550,000, which he says equates to the cost of running the Canberra house – located inside Centenary Hospital for Women and Children – for one year.
With an influx of new families to Canberra and surrounding regions, as well as the NSW South Coast, the past year has seen record demand for accommodation at Ronald McDonald House by the families of seriously ill children.
Mirko says the charity was fortunate to partner with Canberra motels to provide extra accommodation when required.
“It’s difficult to knock people back,” he says.
Mirko is gearing up to take part in this year’s Ronald McDonald House Track Day at Wakefield Park, sponsored by Lexus of Canberra, in August, and the Red Wig Challenge walk and run in October.
In November 2021, the charity will also benefit from Canberra’s Meet the Makers wine dinner at Pialligo Estate.
Mirko says giving back to his community is important to him.
“We’re a big employer, we sell a lot of cars and we rely on the community a lot to be successful in our business so I believe it’s good to give back,” he says.
“The best way to give back to the community is to support our local charities.”
Known as ‘the Toyota and Lexus boss’, Mirko is the chief operating officer of the Janrule Automotive Group which is one of the biggest car dealer groups in Canberra.
With 376 employees, Mirko says he is keen to lead by example and encourages his staff to become involved in charitable works.