My night of homelessness at the St Vinnies CEO Sleepout

I must confess, I don’t know what possessed me to register as a CEO to Sleepout on a cold night in June, but once done I was looking forward to it. My role was simple – raise awareness, spread information about the great work and services that St Vinnies do in respect to homelessness and raise the minimum target of $5,000. And then of course, leave my warm bed, my warm house, Netflix and family and spend the night with a group of strangers at the WACA. Sometimes I need to think through some of my choices before I act!

The night

I arrived on the night for registration at 6.30pm and was surprised by the amount of people who were already there. As I registered, I received a welcome pack which included a program for the evening, a beanie, a toothbrush with toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, soap and a pen. Being on my own I started to mingle (which can be awkward when you don’t know anyone) and meet some wonderful people from various walks of life. Irrespective of who I met, where they worked or the title they held (and not everyone was a CEO!), they were all humble individuals who had given up their time and warm beds to spend the night in the cold to raise money for a worthy cause. And there were some very influential CEO’s in the group, but there were no egos, just friendly people in their warmest tracksuit. Tracksuits seem to make everyone equal.

Dinner was a choice of either potato and leek soup or curried pumpkin, along with a bread roll. And then it was on to the formalities – a group photo, welcome to country, presentations by Mark Fitzpatrick (the CEO of St Vincent de Paul) and a remarkable personal story told by an inspirational young man called Paris Mitchell.

Homelessness – the reality of it

Many may have their own perception about homelessness, but let me share some key points with you. Homelessness is more than not having a house to live in: it is a lack of the elements that represent a ‘home’: a sense of security, stability, privacy, community and safety. It doesn’t just mean living on the streets, it can mean sleeping on a couch at a friend’s place, in a car or caravan, or it can mean that you are forced to seek shelter in crisis accommodation or refuges. Alarmingly children and young people (under the age of 25) account for 42% of all homeless Australians (Home & Away, Child and Youth Homelessness Report, Mission Australia)

The single biggest cause of homelessness in Australia is domestic and family violence. In 2014-15, 36% of all people requesting assistance from specialist homelessness agencies were escaping domestic or family violence. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)

My homeless night

My experience of homelessness was a sheltered one – I was given cardboard to sleep on (and it was luxury with two sheets of cardboard! – thank you Visy!!), it was only one night, the forecast was clear, there were many of us and we were in safe area patrolled by security guards. My experience on the streets would have been very different – no cardboard (just the cold ground), no comfort from having others near me, I may have encountered difficulty in finding a secure place to sleep that was out of the way and protected from the elements, and there would be no security to protect me as I slept. Sleeping in the cold, on the ground can be challenging, but being on your own, hearing noises, not feeling completely at ease, puts a different dimension on sleeping rough.

I captured my immediate thoughts upon waking in a video, which you can view here, but a friend asked me via Facebook what my insights were. Quite simply, I replied:

  1. People don’t choose to live on the streets
  2. It’s cold
  3. Its uncomfortable
  4. It’s scary. You’re not safe and you hear noises.
  5. It’s cold.
  6. Everyone has story. They don’t want your money. They want your time and compassion. Ask their name, buy them a coffee and have a chat.
  7.  Be grateful for what you have. We are blessed in so many ways and we take it for granted.

The cold hard facts

With the support of Beyond Bank, friends, colleagues and family I raised $5,465. WA CEO’s raised $673,252 and nationally we raised $5,888,730. 1434 CEO’s participated nationally and were supported by 41,218 kind donors. Donations can still be made until the end of August so if you would like to donate, please visit https://www.ceosleepout.org.au/ceos/wa-ceos/helena-jakupovic/

Going forward

I am thankful every night when I get into a warm bed. I will participate again next year and start my fundraising efforts earlier to contribute to such a worthy cause. I will encourage others to join in and spend the night with me. But most of all, I will take the time to talk to anyone that I see who is homeless. I will ask their name, buy them a coffee and take time to have a chat. Everyone needs to feel valued, not invisible or unworthy. Compassion is the first step and it starts with all of us. Do your bit to make a difference in someone’s life.