I was very fortunate to spend some time with a nurse in a Melbourne based program delivering basic health care to people who lived and slept rough. I visited a centre that provided temporary accommodation for men and also provided swags and fundamental care packages to other men that could not be provided with beds. I spent some time with some people who worked with young people who were homeless due to other issues (addictions and poor social circumstances). I was SO impressed by people in my profession and what they did for their work. No judgement, fairly and caringly delivered services, as part of their job, every day.
My first Sleepout exposed me to more information about VINNIES and what they do in their various programs around the various states and territories. The event presentations provided me with “evidence” by way of statistics that demonstrated how many people live this way in Australia. They staggered me with details of how many women sleep rough with their kids. That was THE punch in the guts for me. The fact that a mother would choose to flee an environment (that provided a roof over their head), with her kids and decide that sleeping in a car or an alley was a better alternative for herself and children, has never left me. This is why I support what VINNIES do around Australia and why I continue to support the CEO Sleepout.
This week I went along to the Melbourne site, for this year’s CEO Sleepout. I believe there were approximately 200 of us CEOs in Melbourne. The recently appointed Victorian CEO Susan Cattermole was introduced to us all. Turned out she is connected to some people I love very much – so I introduced myself to her for a brief hello and chat.
After the normal format of some talks, meeting people who have been supported through VINNIES programs over the last 12 months and some mingling and chatting, it was lights out at approximately 10:15 pm. People started to drift to their chosen spots on the concrete concourse, rug up and slip into sleeping bags.
About fifteen minutes later there seemed to be a bit of noise coming from one end of the concourse. What transpired was a “visit” of approximately 30 protestors who had come along to challenge what the CEO Sleepout was doing and they had some very strong viewpoints. There were some very articulate, highly informed arguments that they were presenting. They chanted, beat a drum and challenged a number of the people standing around. The claimed that “CEO” stood for “Creators of Economic Oppression”. They asked for us to give up our jobs, give them the keys to our homes and that our gestures of one night on concrete were tokenistic. They yelled that we should “move along in case tourists saw us”. They stated they represented many minority, disenfranchised and disadvantaged groups. I could not determine if they were all homeless themselves or not.
Many of the things they said, I agreed with (in fact; STRONGLY agree with), yet I find myself feeling so uncomfortable about what happened and I am trying to understand why? I have spent considerable time inside my own head trying to reflect on why I have reacted so.
They said housing was a basic human right – I AGREE
They said the disadvantaged people should be given support – I AGREE
They said homeless people should be assisted to find affordable housing – I AGREE
They said us being in our designer sleeping bags and wearing beanies was not truly what it is like to be homeless – I AGREE (and I know many CEOs donate their sleeping bags to shelters after the event!!)
They said that Australia’s first people (indigenous people) are probably the most disadvantaged people in Australia – I AGREE
I attempt to be thoughtful to social and community needs for all people and I am passionate about many causes. I like to think that I am a caring and respectful person in relation to most people and most issues. BUT, was my being part of the CEO Sleepout disrespectful to others and was my “token effort” in some way offensive? I know that I have a privileged life, I work hard and I would like to think I encourage and “mentor” others (especially young people) and give people opportunity. I also know that one night of little sleep, being cold and having a cup of soup is not my norm – but so much worse is the norm, for many others. That’s why I participate….
The reality is that SO MUCH does need to be done for so many disadvantaged, disenfranchised, discriminated and ignored social issues and community groups. If it is not undertaken by groups like VINNIES and so many other NGO/NFP charity organisations – who would do it? I won’t enter the political debate of who, what and why it should be done, here.
HOWEVER, I feel privileged and grateful that 30 people donated $2700.00 to support me to take part of the CEO Sleepout and if that contribution helps one mother and her kids be safe and directed toward affordable housing in the VINNIES “home connect” program, THEN I will not apologise for being a CEO in my designer sleeping bag.
BUT, I will say thank you to my donors and to the people who helped at the Sleepout and thank you to VINNIES for the work you do. I also say thank you to the protestors for making me venture into my own head space about what I was doing and evaluating what I believe. AND FINALLY, Susan Carttermole, VINNIES Victoria CEO, your first event was a success and I look forward to seeing you next year.
I will unashamedly say that - you can still donate to my sleepout effort .... if you got to the VINNIES CEO Sleepout webpage and follow the links to my name ..... I am still fund raising until the end of August 2016. Thanks
Be warm my friends