Last night I slept out in the University of Melbourne car park to raise money for homelessness services. Here is what I learnt.
- I learnt that it is hard and cold sleeping on concrete.
That some people snore really loudly. Maybe that includes me too…
That earplugs are one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century.
But also that there are worse things in life than sleeping on the ground undercover in a secure area in a 3 degree rated sleeping bag along with 200 CEOs
Experiencing actual homelessness would be one of them.
- I learnt that homelessness and incarceration are the two pinnacles of what’s described as pyramids of social exclusion.
That there are more than 105,000 people experiencing homelessness across Australia.
That of these, sixty per cent are under the age of 35 and that more than 17,000 Australian children under the age of 12 have no permanent home.
But also that people experiencing homelessness are much more than statistics – and they should not be defined as “homeless people”.
They are, of course, people like us – with hopes, dreams, loved ones, qualifications and hobbies – and like us they come from all walks of life.
- I learnt that experiencing homelessness is about much more than sleeping rough.
That it can feel like being lost in a maze 24/7 – chaotic, unpredictable, relentless, seemingly random and with no clear way out.
That looking on we think the right direction to take is obvious, and we might be quick to look down on people stuck in the maze.
But also that being listened to is critical to finding your way out.
Sometimes it is easier to reach out to strangers like the “Vannies” (who run the soup vans) than it is to risk the judgement of those closest to you – such as your family.
- I learnt that homelessness often does not have a single or simple cause.
That many but not all are experiencing mental illness and/or have problems with drug use.
That many but not all are escaping family violence and/or are experiencing poverty and unemployment.
But also too often we are quick to stereotype, partly because we want to simplify and understand, and partly because homelessness is scary and we want to externalise and contain it as something outside our experience.
It could happen to me – it could happen to you.
- I learnt that people can be overwhelmingly generous.
That if you are experiencing homelessness there is help available from passionate, caring people (like St Vincent De Paul).
That the most generous people are sometimes those with the least to give – particularly people who have experienced homelessness themselves,
That if you are fundraising for services for homelessness there are many people who will give freely (thank you).
That in Victoria we raised almost $700,000 for Vinnies homelessness services (there is still time to donate here https://www.ceosleepout.org.au/ceos/vic-ceos/paul-duldig/ J)
But also that it is nowhere near enough. Somehow it turns out we can be very generous person to person, but systemically not so much.
There is no excuse for poverty and homelessness in a country as rich as Australia.
Thanks to St Vincent de Paul for organising the 2017 Vinnies CEO Sleep Out and thanks to all those who donated to help fund homelessness services