Cricket NSW chief executive Andrew Jones reflects on the recent Vinnies CEO sleepout, when he recently joined more than 370 chief executives from leading sporting and business organisations to support homeless people.
The best analogy I can find is a night on a particularly well-ventilated aeroplane, except it was on the grass outside the Members' Stand of the SCG.
You are a bit cold the whole time, you can sleep in one and two hour bursts but without much room to move (you are in a sleeping bag on a narrow strip of cardboard, in my case also with an "inverted V"-shaped cardboard roof which was very narrow and low), and there are people snoring loudly around you. I last woke up at 6.30am though so really can't complain.
What struck me at that point was that I was able to nick straight home and have a hot shower and cup of coffee and then go to work in a job that I love.
By contrast, our friends experiencing real homelessness have to get up and solve the problems of travel, food, personal hygiene, money and sense of purpose every day. Not easy.
But it was the education component of the evening that had the most impact.
We were presented with typical scenarios causing homelessness via a mix of
(convincingly) acted scenes presented in Virtual Reality plus accounts from real people who have or are experiencing homelessness.
The key takeaways were:
1. Homelessness is not just about old men with alcohol problems, though they exist in numbers and deserve our compassion too. The homeless population also includes a vast number of women (44% of Australia's total homeless population of 105,000) and young people (60%+) as well as older men.
2. The causes are various and include domestic violence (a key driver for women - ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE and never acceptable), housing (un)affordability, loss of employment & the financial stress that creates, and family breakdown.
3. No one plans to be homeless. Instead one thing leads to another, often suddenly and unexpectedly. And heartbreakingly. The three people we heard from
a. formerly high-flying female executive whose career and family life went off-track unexpectedly and became homeless at 51
b. a dairy hand and father of five who was also gay and was socially
isolated and bullied out his job because of it, and whose life unraveled. His son also committed suicide - it was absolutely heartbreaking. He is still in Vinnies' care
c. a man who left home at 15 after his parents split and spent 20 years as a streetie, drug addict and then bikie, but who is now a successful sales executive, after much help from Vinnies.
4. The margins are fine and a lot of it is luck - good or bad. I often think of our lives as a lotto ball drawn out of a cauldron with seven billion other lotto balls in it (seven billion being the population of the world). It is extraordinary luck to have a ball drawn out which allows us to live in Sydney, be healthy, have families and friends, work in cricket and get paid for it. Yes there has been some hard work along the way but in reality the foundation is immense good fortune. Almost everyone else in the world, including many people living around and among us in Australia, is not so lucky and we need to remind ourselves of that frequently.
5. We need to understand all this and show compassion for those less fortunate. We can do this in many ways, including paying our taxes, making additional contributions to charities that help the less fortunate in various forms, doing work that matters, and simply by acknowledging the people around us no matter their luck in life.
Some of this is pretty obvious of course, but it is always valuable to get a sense of perspective and the Sleepout certainly did that.
Together we at Cricket NSW also raised $8k, and the national campaign around $5m, all of which will assist Vinnies in its outstanding work to take in people experiencing homelessness, alleviate the immediate crisis then get them moving forward with a sense of security and purpose.