Executives from the finance world gathered in cities across Australia last month to sleep rough for one night during the 2021 Vinnies CEO Sleepout. They raised millions of dollars in the fight against homelessness.
Mortagage and finance industry senior executives joined dozens of business leaders at the 2021 Vinnies CEO Sleepout in Sydney to raise funds for thousands of Australians living without a proper roof over their heads.
Every year business leaders across Australia sleep rough for one night and help raise millions of dollars for the St Vincent de Paul Society. The funds are used to provide food, crisis accommodation and support services to assist the more than 116,000 Australians experiencing homelessness.
This year marked the 16th annual CEO Sleepout, and while in 2020 COVID-19 forced organisers to run a virtual event with people sleeping in their backyards or at work, the 2021 event was back to normal with sleepout locations in all the major cities.
Vinnies’ goal was to raise $8m, and at the time of going to print it had received more than $9.17m.
Australian Broker caught up with nine finance executives who gathered at White Bay Cruise Terminal on a cold, clear winter’s night on 17 June with sleeping bags and cardboard in tow for the Sydney CEO Sleepout.
Among them was Lendi Group’s chief operating officer Sebastian Watkins; chief marketing officer Zara Cobb; CEO David Hyman; and CEO of distribution Brad Cramb. They collectively raised more than $46,000 for Vinnies.
Others who took part in the CEO Sleepout included QBE Lenders Mortgage Insurance CEO Phil White ($18,285 raised to date); ANZ Sydney CBD district manager Nick Marval ($5,520); Simplicity Loans and Advisory managing director Jean-Pierre Gortan ($12,066); GetCapital CEO Jamie Osborn ($10,909); and Lumi founder and CEO Yanir Yakutiel ($11,285).
Participants told Australian Broker how they were able to hear on the night from people who had experienced homelessness.White was taking part in his sixth CEO Sleepout.
“A colleague of mine who’s here tonight is doing seven in a row. When I got the role as CEO for the mortgage insurance business he said, ‘you should come along to this’, so I did, and I come back every year,” said White.
“Mortgage insurance is all about helping people who don’t have a large deposit to get into housing, but we recognise there’s a lot of people who don’t have a chance of getting into housing.
“Vinnies do a good job – they introduce you to people who have been through it ... some of the stories, it could be you or I that you can find yourself homeless. One of the ones that was most heart-wrenching was a lady in her 70s. Her husband died – they had been married 30 years, her children got control of the house and they kicked her out.”
White said sleeping rough for one night was a small sacrifice for a great cause.
“You meet some great people with similar values, all prepared to try and do something to give back.”
Marval said ANZ executives in Melbourne had taken part in the CEO Sleepout before, and his boss asked for some volunteers, so he and colleague Mark Simpson got involved in the Sydney and Wollongong sleepouts.
“I’ve already heard from one of the homeless people, Sylvia, who shared her story, and the reality is if you have two or three mishaps in your life, you’re not too far away from homelessness,” he said.Marval said he had heard that homelessness in Australia had risen 13% in the past four years.“
COVID has probably accelerated that with a few people, so any support we can do, we’re more than happy to give back to the community.”Gortan, of Simplicity Loans, was doing his third sleepout.
“I felt like I’d been really fortunate in my personal life, in business, and this was something I felt that puts you a little bit outside your comfort zone, but it definitely gives you a profile and helps you use that profile for a very worthwhile cause,” he said.
“Especially youth homelessness, which maybe doesn’t get as much press as it should – there’s some 37,000 kids that sleep rough or that don’t have a fixed address. I’ve got a couple of little girls, 12 and 10, so it definitely hits home for me.”
For Hyman, it was the third time he had taken part.
“As a business we obviously help people get into homes every day of the week, and some people aren’t as fortunate, so we thought we could lend a hand and raise some money to make it a little bit easier,” he said. “It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve done to understand what the homeless endure living on the streets.”
Cobb, who has long been a passionate advocate for ending homelessness, said it was her first time experiencing CEO Sleepout “on the ground”, with COVID restrictions last year meaning she and other Lendi executives, including Hyman and Watkins, slept at work on the balcony.
“This is just really about grounding yourself and giving back,” said Cobb. “We’re in a very privileged position both in the business and the roles that we’re in. I think it’s really important to take a minute and step away from that and hear other people’s stories.”
Cobb said she had heard about an Argentinian woman who came to Australia with her family. She left her husband due to domestic violence, and he took the youngest child with him to Argentina and left her with nothing.
“Today’s story resonated a lot with me being a female. I think you think you’re invincible to this and would do it differently or do it better, and then you hear of a strong female who got into that position through no fault of her own.”
Watkins said the sleepout was a “real eye-opener”, and it was something he was proud to support.
“I probably didn’t quite understand just the significant impact [homelessness] can have on people that would otherwise be living very normal lives,” he said. “Hearing the stories had made it a bit more real.”
Cramb was participating in his first CEO Sleepout.
“I think the perception of what homelessness is in Australia is very different to reality, so to bring attention to that is very important in my point of my view,” he said.
Osborn was embarking on his fourth sleepout.
“It’s a fantastic event – Vinnies do such a great job not just of raising the money but getting people upfront and personal with the homelessness problem,” he said.
“I think that’s part of the tough nut to crack just how do you get that empathy through the community, so this is a really good program for that.”
Yakutiel said it was his fourth sleepout. Last year he and his son, then aged eight, slept in the park next to their house, and it was great to give him an insight into homelessness.
“It’s something you see every day living in Australia in any big city. It really disturbs me to see so much plenty on one hand and so much need and despair on the other, and it’s something I thought it would be important to raise awareness for.”