THERE were teary eyes this morning (April 14) when the Saint Vincent de Paul Society CEO of the Canberra and Goulburn region announced a hybrid return of its annual CEO Sleepout at the National Arboretum.
In an emotional launch, Barnie van Wyk spoke of the pandemic-produced economic downturn that has seen many people sleeping rough for the first time ever when he announced that this year’s sleepout, in its 11th year, will be held as a hybrid event.
Taking place on June 16 at the National Arboretum, about 70 CEOs have so far signed up to sleep rough in and around the Margaret Whitlam pavilion, with a total of 150 expected to take part, he said.
Others will choose to take part remotely, sleeping in their gardens or cars, and will tune into the event via an online live stream.
The aim, after breaking a record in 2019, which saw more than $800,000 raised, is to at least raise $630,000 this year, Mr Wyk said. Donations dipped around $500,000 during last year’s all-digital event.
The funds go to help operate programs run by the not-for-profit organisations and services such as the Vinnie’s Night Patrol.
When launching the event, Mr Wyk asked: “Why are we still here? Why are we still having this conversation?”
And to that he said, there are about 130,000 people sleeping rough nationally.
About 60 per cent of them are aged under 30, and many of them had been employed in service industries hit hard by covid lockdowns, he said.
He also pointed to the 44 per cent of homeless people who are women, many of them middle-aged, as well as the 13 per cent who are less than 12 years old.
Scott Saddler, the executive branch manager for the National Arboretum and Stromlo Forest Park will be hosting the event this year, and at the launch directed the crowd to look out the pavilion window.
“Canberra city looks calm, picturesque and organised,” he said.
“But underneath the surface are individuals and communities struggling to be seen or heard.”