Bringing home the reality of homelessness

Dear Mr Collins, we would like to donate some of our pocket money to your sleep out. Good luck, stay warm and have fun. Lily and Mae Fletcher

Bringing home the reality of homelessness

This note, and the piggy bank proceeds that accompanied it, exemplify the spirit of the annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout, in which Director of the Catholic Schools Office, Ray Collins, Vice Chancellor, Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, Sean Scanlon and principal of St Therese's Primary New Lambton, Duilio Rufo, participated this year.

It would be fair to say that not one of the three gentlemen was looking forward to the event – Sean had earlier admitted "I hate camping" – but each was strongly committed to the cause.

The aim of the annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout is not only to raise funds, but to raise awareness of homelessness. The Society's goal is not just to serve the homeless, but to bring about an end to homelessness. The discomfort of sleeping on a piece of cardboard is a fragment of the larger reality Vinnies hopes to impart upon influential leaders, and through them, the wider community. The sad reality is that:

• 58% of people experiencing homelessness are under 35 years of age
• 44% are women
• 12% are under 12 years of age.

Since 2006, the annual CEO Sleepout has raised over $13 million for Vinnies Homeless Services across NSW and nationally.

The reality of the situation was brought home to Sean Scanlon recently: "I had a fellow tapping on my window as it was getting dark, asking if I could help him," said Sean. "He told me that he had been at the family court that day, lost custody of his children and had nowhere to sleep that night. It was confronting and in all honesty I didn't know what to do. That situation has been on my mind since."

Ray Collins shared his experience 'the morning after': "I made it through the night! Sleeping on two thin pieces of cardboard is not something I would choose to do and it does bring home the stark reality that this is the life of the homeless. Vinnies does a great job! I have found the whole process quite humbling and I would certainly do it again but I am looking forward to my bed tonight!"

Sean Scanlon expressed similar sentiments: "It was a cold night but spirits were high – and I gained a new appreciation of what it means to sleep rough. The Newcastle Sleepout raised about $120,000. After hearing the stories of the people assisted by Vinnies I know that it's all worth it."

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