National institutions have played host to the Vinnies CEO Sleepout in previous years, but in 2020, participants will get to experience something a little closer to home such as their car, couch or backyard.
The change to the event is in response to COVID-19, however CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn, Barnie van Wyk, said it also provides an opportunity to highlight other forms of homelessness.
“While we know many people are sleeping outside, there are thousands of people experiencing homelessness that aren’t the ‘rough sleepers’ we automatically think of when we consider homelessness,” Mr van Wyk said.
“For many people, homelessness is sleeping in a car, and an estimated 15% of Australia’s 116,000 people experiencing homelessness are couch surfers.”
As a region, Mr van Wyk said the local organisation is hoping to raise $350,000 from this year’s event to help fund their continuing work in the community.
“We are facing reduced income due to the impact of social distancing requirements on the Vinnies shops, and the cancellation or modification of fundraising events including the CEO Sleepout,” Mr van Wyk said.
“With more people out of work, and struggling with housing costs, there are more and more people requiring our help, so the fundraising efforts of our CEO Sleepout participants are more crucial than ever.”
This year, participants can involve their partner and children, helping the whole family to learn more about the growing issue of homelessness. Participants or donors can also pledge “Vinnies Hours”.
“We know this is a time of economic hardship for many, but that people really do still want to help Vinnies,” Mr van Wyk said.
“It may be that the best way they can help us is to spread a message on social media, or do a shift in one of our shops, or on one of our Night Patrol vans instead of donating cash. There will be a number of options available for people, and it will be managed through each participants’ online portal.”
One local participant is Katrina Bracher, Executive Director of Women, Youth and Children’s Services at Canberra Health Services, who will be participating in her eighth CEO Sleepout this year.
Ms Bracher first participated in the event while she was the Executive Director of Mental Health, Justice Health and Alcohol and Drug Services.
“The number of people with mental illness or addiction that are homeless struck me quite markedly,” she said, but the issue has also been noticeable in her other roles as well.
“Women from DV (domestic violence) or relationships that are not positive, those women are at high risk of homelessness with their children,” she said.
“This year with COVID-19, the number of people that are in rental stress and may become homeless, it is endemic within our community.”
Ms Bracher said part of the reason she has continued to support the CEO Sleepout is “to do something for and on behalf of the community”.
“I’m going to be sleeping in my backyard, outside under the stars. Each year that I’ve done it, lying under the stars with nothing above my head, it’s quite reflective for me.”
This year, she is also going to be joined by her daughter, Matilda Holgate.
“For me it is great to have company on the night. She always donates to the cause, but it is personally very special that she is keen to commit to supporting services like Vinnies that do such great work for very needy people in our community.”
This year’s Vinnies CEO Sleepout will be held on Thursday 18 June. For more information, to register, or donate, visit www.ceosleepout.org.au