Canberra showed its heart again on a bleak winter night this week when the Vinnies CEO Sleepout locally raised close to $1 million for food, accommodation and essential services for people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness.
St Vincent de Paul is still hoping to reach the $1 million mark in Canberra, the local CEOs and community leaders able to fundraise until July 31.
A total of 164 local business, community and government leaders together raised over $970,000 for Vinnies' homelessness and social impact services by sleeping out at the National Arboretum on Thursday night.
Many others slept in their cars, on couches, backyards, or in carparks across the region.
The event nationwide raised close to $8.4 million, which means the ACT is likely to raise more than 10 per cent of the total fundraising. The ACT also had two people in the top 10 fundraisers in the nation - Geocon founder Nick Georgalis, who raised more than $65,000, and Nikias Diamond director Dimitri Nikias, who raised more than $61,000.
The temperature dipped to five degrees before the participants were roused at 5am. It was a lot warmer than previous years, when the temperature had fallen way below zero.
St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn CEO Barnie van Wyk said as well as raising funds, the annual event aimed to educate participants about the realities of homelessness and living life below the poverty line.
"Even though it was not as cold as previous years, it was still a very uncomfortable experience and all of us got very little sleep. It is hard to comprehend how so many individuals and families have to go through this every night," Mr van Wyk said.
Mr van Wyk said the money raised would also help to fund an after-hours case manager to help the homeless at all hours of the night. Nothing could be done without the generosity of Canberra.
"It is fair to say, per capita, we are donating far more than any other city," he said.
The 130 participants who attended the physical event arrived at the National Arboretum with just a sleeping bag. They were provided with three pieces of cardboard to set up shelter for the night and after selecting a place to sleep, had soup and a bread roll for dinner.
A panel of speakers, which included Vinnies volunteers and clients, discussed issues relating to disadvantage, poverty and homelessness.
The also talked about the impact that Vinnies' homelessness and early intervention youth programs have on the lives of vulnerable individuals and families.
Liberals' housing spokesman Mark Parton slept under a bench at the arboretum and survived a mouse that he found in his bag waking him up in the middle of the night.
Mr Parton said he heard devastating stories of homelessness every day in his job as a politician and that was part of the reason he wanted to participate.
"I see what Vinnies do," he said.
"The biggest single benefit is that it's a massive fundraiser for Vinnies. People sometimes criticise the sleepout. They say, 'Oh this is just a bunch of corporate wankers pretending that they know what it's like'. My response to that is, 'All right, if you can come up with a better way to raise $8 million nationally, you come to me and let's see if we can do it'."
Menslink CEO Martin Fisk completed his 11th CEO sleepout for Vinnies on Thursday night.
"I started because many years ago I befriended a guy who used to sleep in the city and I used to buy him coffee every morning," Mr Fisk said.
"And through the work of Vinnies, they managed to get him, firstly, accommodation and then a job and that was 12 years ago. He would not be where he is today without Vinnies and he is living a really fulfilled life."
Mr Fisk said no one participating in the sleepout in any way thought they were experiencing anything like the day-to-day harshness of homelessness.
"Absolutely not," he said. "What it does do, that no other event does, is it raises awareness among the CEOs but also their businesses and their suppliers and their customers and their networks.
"You now have thousands of people who know more about homelessness than they would without this event and that's what it's all about. None of us CEOs would raise anything like the money we do, without having an event like this."
Mr Fisk said Canberra was punching way above its weight in the fundraising stakes.
"I think Canberra is an incredibly generous community," he said.
"As a former Sydneysider who has lived here for almost 20 years, the generosity of Canberrans, when people are in need, is fantastic and the Vinnies event was an absolute reflection of that."
Christine Shaw, owner of Christine Shaw Properties, raised more than $20,000, the most of any female CEO in Canberra. She urged other women to participate in the event next year.
Ms Shaw said she was "in luxury" sleeping outside for one night in a warm sleeping bag compared to the true homeless who live the fitful existence of never knowing where they will lay their head for the night.
"You think, 'How do people cope with this every night?'," she said.
"It is eye-opening. Every now and then you hear, 'Oh the event is tokenistic', 'What can that do?' But, I honestly believe, those of us who were first timers, you wake up and think, 'Holy hell'.
"It was probably 99 degrees of separation from what the homeless are experiencing. But the money we can raise and the advocacy we do, is powerful. And it does get conversations going. People do give and they money goes to programs at the ground level. I just feel honoured I've been part of it."
Donations to the Vinnies CEO Sleepout can still be made here.
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