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Vinnies CEO Sleepout raises more than $7.8 million to fight a “perfect storm” of homelessness

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Vinnies CEO sleepout - The Catholic Weekly
Single mother Melissa Thomas told her story of homelessness at the 2024 Vinnies CEO Sleepout. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Rising rents and mortgage payments combined with a lack of available housing is creating “a perfect storm” for people who are already struggling to keep a roof over their heads says New South Wales St Vincent de Paul Society CEO Yolanda Saiz. 

Speaking at the Vinnies CEO Sleepout Saiz also said the homeless have fewer pathways out of their situation as services are at capacity and becoming increasingly expensive to run. 

“The rising cost of living is really exacerbating the situation,” she said. 

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“It is also harder for us as our own costs rise and people who might regularly donate are now having to make choices between putting food on the table, paying an energy bill or getting their kids everything they need for school. 

“But we will never turn people away, we will always refer them to another service or find another way to help them.” 

Vinnies CEO sleepout - The Catholic weekly
Dominic Sullivan, PAYCE Foundation director and co-chair of the End Street Sleeping Collaboration board, preparing to sleep at the White Bay Cruise Terminal in Rozelle. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

This year Vinnies’ major fundraiser held on 20 June raised more than $7.8 million nationally to support its work in assisting people experiencing and at risk of homelessness. 

At events held in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong business and community leaders raised $2.5 million in sponsorship to sleep outdoors as temperatures fell to six degrees. 

The funds will go to a range of services including crisis accommodation, domestic and family violence refuges, specialist healthcare, case management, rent support, and Vinnies Vans. 

Deputy New South Wales Premier Prue Car and housing minister Rose Jackson were among the leaders who slept in on cardboard sheets in their sleeping bags along the White Bay Cruise terminal in Rozelle, after announcing the provision of $150,000 for a purpose-built catering truck to add to the Vinnies Van fleet supporting rough sleepers and others needing food assistance across metropolitan Sydney. 

“This has to be a partnership of you all with government as none of us can do this all by ourselves,” Car said. 

While the record $5.1 billion allocated to social housing in this month’s state budget “goes a massive way we’re only going to get it to a fairer and more equitable society by working together,” she added. 

Saiz said the charity’s homeless services and domestic and family violence refuges are at capacity. 

Record numbers of people are seeking assistance with food and bills, including one every three approaching a charity for the very first time. 

Vinnies CEO sleepout - The Catholic weekly
Government, business, and community leaders supported the 19th annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“Our supporters here tonight will walk away with a different perspective on homelessness, it’s much more than the older man on the street maybe with an alcohol addiction, though they are vulnerable and a very important cohort for us to take care of,” she explained. 

“It’s also men under 40 years of age, women over 55, families, children, and mothers with kids fleeing domestic and family violence.” 

The lower north shore’s Melissa Thomas, 50, represents how the acute cost-of-living crisis can push more people into homelessness, insecure or overcrowded housing. 

After escaping a domestic violence situation into a temporary one-room refuge she scraped together rent for a one-bedroom apartment with her four young children and skipped meals so they could eat. 

“I’d come from having everything to being practically homeless and destitute, yet I know there are women like myself who for years never asked for help out of embarrassment,” she told The Catholic Weekly. 

Vinnies CEO sleepout - The Catholic weekly
Vinnie’s CEO winter sleepout. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

From donating to Vinnies each year, Thomas now lives in a “beautiful home” with the charity’s ongoing support in partnership with the Sisters of Mercy. 

“Now even with wonderful family support I still sometimes need Vinnies’ help, I’m working and budget carefully but with bills continually rising sometimes there’s still not enough at the end of the week,” she said. 

Anthony Cleary, director of religious education and evangelisation for Sydney Catholic Schools, raised more than $20,000 with his second CEO sleepout as “a practical way of putting my faith into action” and to encourage school communities to do the same. 

Dozens are holding their own “sleepouts” in the coming month and St Ursula’s College in Kingsrove raised more than $15,000 in one night. 

Dominic Sullivan, PAYCE Foundation director and co-chair of the End Street Sleeping Collaboration board, raised more than $11,000 with his Sydney sleepout. 

He said homelessness is a complex issue and needs to be better understood across the community. 

“Awareness is critical because until we understand the nature of the problem and why we have a problem can we try and solve it,” he said. 

“Community campaigns like this are really important and End Street Sleeping has been trying to encourage a community response that’s collective and is going to apply governments, not-for-profit, charities and also business leaders.” 

For more information or to donate you can follow the link here.  

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