Greg Hood, Barnie van Wyk, Neville Tomkins, Hannah Lising, Dr Steve Lising, Sophie Lising, Oliver Lising, Dan Cusack and Mirko Milic are all taking part in the 2021 Vinnies CEO sleepout. Photos: Kerrie Brewer.

CEOs will be braving Canberra’s cold with a spectacular view as the Vinnies CEO Sleepout is set to bring homelessness in the Capital Region back into view.

On the long night of Thursday 17 June, leaders in business, community and government are invited to be a part of the hybrid event, either sleeping outside at the National Arboretum or volunteering to sleep in their cars, on the couch or in their backyard to help change the lives of Australians experiencing homelessness.

Barnie van Wyk, CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn, said that following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, he was dreading the release of homeless and poverty figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“In Canberra, from our helpline perspective we’ve helped 17,000 people with emergency material and financial aid,” he said.

“Obviously, there are some people that call through more than once, but 17,000 cases of support is a lot and that’s just Vinnies.”

In the latest annual report from St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn, in the 2019-2020 financial year, there were 83,712 instances of support provided by Vinnies’ members to people in need.

Included in this number, Blue Door, the drop-in centre run by Vinnies at Ainslie Village, saw 47,000 meals provided.

Mr van Wyk said that bringing the physical sleepout back is a good reminder that homelessness does exist in the ACT and surrounding region.

“The Arboretum is an iconic place in Canberra. If you talk about the views that you have here, everyone says they are amazing,” he said.

“The views that we have of people that are homeless are not always that visible. It’s almost like we hide poverty well in Canberra.”

“People don’t understand poverty, they think ‘If it’s not in my backyard it’s not a problem.’ It’s only when you have that personal experience when you can relate.”

Executive Branch Manager for the National Arboretum Canberra and Stromlo Forest Park, Scott Saddler said that he advocated for the Arboretum’s involvement in the CEO Sleepout because of his own family connections to Vinnies and his desire to do more.

“My grandfather was a 70-year volunteer out at Lake Cargelligo and my son currently works for St Vincent de Paul. He’s the director of Commercial Strategy in New South Wales,” Mr Saddler said.

“I just think that I’ve never done the Sleepout and there’s so many homeless people around Canberra … I get really disappointed when I walk around and I see it.”

Barnie van Wyk, CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn and Executive Branch Manager for the National Arboretum Canberra and Stromlo Forest Park, Scott Saddler are excited to bring the CEO sleepout to the Arboretum.

Joining Mr Saddler and the 70 other CEOs currently enrolled in the Sleepout, is the principal dentist and director of Preventive Dentistry, Dr Steve Lising, who has been participating in the event for several years.

During the 2020 virtual event, he involved his wife and their three children, 11-year-old Oliver, eight-year-old Hannah and six-year-old Sophie in the Sleepout.

“Not everyone is as privileged as we are … there are so many out there who don’t have enough,” he said.

“It was uncomfortable for them and a bit of an eye-opener … Oliver and I slept in the driveway in our car. I’m lucky enough to have a convertible so we thought to make it a bit more interesting we would put the top down and we woke up covered in dew.”

This year, Dr Lising and his children will be participating in the Sleepout again to help those who are doing it tough.

“I will be at the Arboretum and my wife and the children will be doing the Sleepout at home, possibly all sleeping out in the car or out in the garden,” he said.

This year, Vinnies is aiming to raise $630,000 to support their delivery services across the Canberra/Goulburn region.

Mr van Wyk said that any money raised will help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness and mitigate the impact the pandemic has had in the community in the last year.

“It’s not just about the money. It is about your advocacy, it’s about your awareness, it’s about your support to provide for people who cannot speak for themselves. We’ve got to do it,” Mr van Wyk said.