On Thursday night into Friday morning, I’ll be joining around 140 Canberrans and 1500 around the nation sleeping rough as a part of the Vinnies CEO Sleepout. This year’s event is in the grounds of the National Museum of Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a subzero night.
Although there’s a wonderful camaraderie and sense of community that comes from participating in the event, I’m here to tell you, bunking down in a sleeping bag on a piece of cardboard is not fun in any way. It all seems like such a great idea during the briefing and when everyone is sitting around scoffing down the soup and bread. The reality of the night soon hits home when you venture outside as the mercury plummets towards zero and you set up your ‘bed’.
Everyone tries to get some sleep, but, as those who are genuinely homeless discover, it’s a tough ask. We can only imagine how much tougher it would be if our safety was genuinely at risk during every moment of unconsciousness. All those who have a crack at this emerge at sunrise with bleary eyes, a sore back and an increase in appreciation of the reality sleeping rough.
Most importantly, we wake with fundraising accounts full of new donations that can enable Vinnies to continue doing their imperative grassroots work in our suburbs.
When I posted about the CEO Sleepout on social media I was hit by a number of somewhat puzzling negative comments about the event.
Martin told me that the Sleepout “misses the point.” He suggested that we should do it in one of Woden’s abandoned buildings with an oil drum fire as the only heat source. He went on to say that to get the true homeless experience, we should try ‘dumpster diving’ for food.
I pointed out to Martin that there is no heating provided on the CEO Sleepout, so an oil drum fire would be somewhat luxurious, but that I wasn’t all that keen on the dumpster dive.
Lee went a little further and declared that the CEO Sleepout is simply a way for the privileged to “ease their conscience by telling themselves that they’ve done their bit.” Lee suggested that instead of the current event, Vinnies should give each CEO $100 and turn them out on to the street for a month. No family contact, no phone, a shower once a week and a meal every other day.
I explained to Lee that his vision of creating authenticity was impractical. Most of those who sign up for the CEO Sleepout are not in a position to put their lives on hold for a month, so the participant numbers would be way down. And it’s difficult to argue with $5.6 million as a fundraising figure.
Those of us who are sleeping rough on Thursday night are not pretending to be homeless. Martin and Lee are correct when they assert that it’s not possible to do that over one night, however cold it might be. We’re just doing our best to raise money and awareness of one of the biggest problems facing us as a society.
It must also be said that Canberra is perhaps the most authentic CEO Sleepout venue in the country simply because it’s ‘so bloody cold’!.
As Shadow Minister for Housing in the ACT, I’m working on some Liberal policy initiatives which we believe will help to address this crisis in Canberra. And I do await the outcomes from the government’s Housing and Homelessness Summit, which have been a long time coming. I hope that they will be worth the wait.
If you would like to donate to the Vinnies CEO Sleepout, you can do so here.