chairman Sam White slept under a makeshift cardboard shelter on the cold streets of Redfern.
The only difference between White and the more than 100,000 Australians who find themselves homeless each night of the year is that he will choose to go home to a warm bed in a comfortable house tonight.
White was one of the 1,041 chief executives across Australia who took part in the CEO Sleepout, raising $5.37m for the St Vincent de Paul Society. The top fundraisers, St.George
’s George Frazis and Best & Less’s Holly Kramer, raised more than $210,000 each. White himself reached his target of $14,000.
White’s perception of homeless people has changed markedly over the three or four years he has been involved.
“I used to think if you were homeless you’d brought it upon yourself. I now know that there are many different factors that contribute to homelessness that are out of that person’s control – things like mental illness and domestic abuse.”
His main motivation for doing the sleep-out was to raise awareness around a major issue which is not improving.
Nearly 60% of people experiencing homelessness are under 35 years of age; 44% are women and 12% are under 12 years of age.
“The problem is actually getting worse, not better. Did you know there are 28,000 kids under the age of 12 who are living on Australia’s streets? That to me is shocking, and something we all need to do something about,” White says.
In the lead-up to the sleep-out, White visited a hostel run by Vinnies and talked to case workers to understand the scale of homelessness, and what services the charity provides, such as mental health care, meals and vocational help.
Homelessness has a particular significance for White, as the CEO of a home loan company. He believes financial education, budgeting lessons, and rental arrears management are all areas in which Loan Market and the broader mortgage and property industries could help those who have fallen through the cracks.
Vinnies’ case workers stress that prevention is key to stopping more people from being forced to live on the streets.
“This is something mortgage brokers and our industry can get more involved in. Homelessness reminds us of the obligations we have to the community. When you look at situations where things haven’t gone right for people, it emphasises the duty of care we have to help our customers,” White says.
He suggests contacting the charity to offer volunteering time or money.
“It’s important to be involved in this cause – there are a lot of ways people can help Vinnies. Getting involved for me has been an eye-opener, and it’s humbling.”
Since the CEO Sleepout began in 2006, it has raised over $19m in important funds for Vinnies Homeless Services and nationally.