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03 Jun 2011
By Gerd Schenkel
Jun
03
2011

Could you sleep outside tonight?

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How do you gauge it’s officially winter? Aside from the clock ticking over to June 1, in my house it’s all about the ugg boots coming out of hibernation and my heater clicking on for the first time that year.

So with my winter armoury fully fastened, I should feel pretty toasty. However writing this at 6.00am in the morning, I’m actually still a tad cold.

Now this begs the most important question: how in the world do the 105,000 homeless Australians actually make it through these excruciatingly long winter evenings.

On June 16, I will learn how incredibly tough it is to spend a night on Sydney’s streets when I participate in my third Vinnies CEO Sleepout.

Gerd Schenkel – CEO sleepoutStarting out as a local community venture in Sydney’s Parramatta in 2006, the CEO Sleepout launched nationally last year, exceeding expectations with almost 700 CEO’s participating and raising close to $3 million.

But the aim of the CEO Sleepout is not only to raise much-needed funds. It’s critical we also raise awareness of the plight of the real people behind the “homeless faces” we pass on the streets every day.

For instance, did you know that most homeless people are under 35 (58%) and 42% are women? I certainly didn’t. Nor did I ever stop to think that most families who are homeless are women and children escaping domestic and family violence.

On the night, we’ll be given one piece of cardboard each to make our “home” for the night. Then we get together and listen to some homeless folk tell their story. It’s really heart breaking to hear how people with “normal” lives can spiral into homelessness – either because of mental illness, divorce, business breakdown or other misfortune. It makes you realise it really can happen to anyone.

And the nights really are excruciating.

The first year I participated, it rained all night. I found a spot underneath a little roof – but that turned out to be leaky and I woke up drenched… not that I slept much to begin with.

The second year I slept on bare concrete and it was so cold, the beanie didn’t do too much good. It’s hard to imagine doing this for more than one night in a row. Then you start thinking about how families or mums with kids have to endure this. Not good enough!

Now I know what you’re thinking – if all the corporate big-wigs gave a tiny percentage of their pay packet to charities, then the world might be a different place.

And perhaps there’s some logic in your argument.

But on the flipside, don’t forget to consider the impact of 700 “senior” executives confronting reality and having a potentially life-altering experience one night in June. There are some real possibilities for change here too.

So, what can you do to help?

It’s easy – visit www.ceosleepout.org.au to sponsor the CEO of your choice, or go to my profile and sponsor me.

And rest assured, your money’s going a long way – from funding new projects to assisting the homeless through crisis accommodation, domestic violence support and access to counselling, life and occupational skills, legal advice and education.

If you’re keen to find out more about the Sleepout or other services Vinnies offer, drop me a line in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Telstra plays a vital role in supporting access to telecommunication for those in our communities who may fall between the cracks. Our Access for Everyone programs include lower-cost telephone services, discounts for eligible pensioners, emergency relief options such as assistance paying Telstra bills and provision of phone cards, as well as pre-paid mobile handsets and starter kits to people who are homeless. We partner with community agencies, including Vinnies, to deliver the programs. For more information visit www.telstra.com.au/accessforeveryone

Telstra also encourages all its employees to connect with their local community. Our people can support 16 charities through payroll giving, get involved in The Bigger Picture network, receive a Telstra’s Kids Fund grant for a community group which involves their child, or participate in Telecross, a Red Cross program which provides a daily phone call to check on the wellbeing of people who are vulnerable or home-bound. For more information visit www.telstra.com.au/cr

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