9 June 2023

Vinnies initiative set to help those in need on the South Coast this winter

| Claire Sams
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three people holding placards

South coast business owners Brendon Bobbin, Stephen Pope and Jamie Cooper are ready to sleep out on 22 June. Photo: Vinnies.

The South Coast is well known as a beautiful region, but there’s something dark lurking among the sunny beaches and leafy trees.

It’s the spectre of an increasing number of people facing housing stress or homelessness as a combination of high inflation, rising rents and interest rate hikes continue to bite.

To help those in need, St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies) Canberra/Goulburn hopes to raise $800,000 through the annual CEO Sleepout when it returns on 22 June.

This year, people living outside of Canberra can get involved with in-person and virtual events running alongside the main sleepout in Canberra.

“We’re going to do it as a physical event at the Merimbula Basketball Courts from 6pm on 22 June for CEOs,” Vinnies regional support officer for the Far South Coast Corinne Brown says.

“They will only be allowed to sleep with a sleeping bag and pillow and will be served a bowl of soup and a bread roll.

“Participants can also log in live to the Canberra event from wherever they are.

“If they join the livestream, participants have the option to sleep in their backyard or their car or on a couch.”

This is the first CEO Sleepout event held on the South Coast.

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“We really hope to raise awareness of the housing crisis that we’re in, the homelessness crisis that we’re going through at the moment,” Ms Brown says.

“There’s a lot of people who have no idea of how many people are homeless on the coast.”

Stephen Pope, one of the directors of South Coast-based company Pope Logging, was motivated to join in after hearing about the level of homelessness in the region.

“I was talking to my daughter-in-law, who works for Vinnies on the South Coast, and she was explaining how big the problem of homeless is in the area,” Stephen says.

“I never realised it was to the proportion it was – or is still.

“If I can sleep one night uncomfortably to bring awareness, and raise money to help somebody – well, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Man in beanie and jacket

A sleeping bag and pillow is all that’s allowed at the annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout. Photo: Scott Park.

Ms Brown has seen the profile of those in need change in recent months, as well as an increasing number needing a helping hand.

“We are now seeing people who have a mortgage coming in for emergency relief,” she says.

“It’s not just someone who is on Centrelink benefits – everyone is equal, and everyone’s struggling.”

She says while some of the unhoused sleep at campgrounds, others take refuge in their car or tent.

Ms Brown works with volunteers from Batemans Bay to Eden, offering advocacy support, clothing and bedding, referrals to other services, food, help with transport and medical expenses.

From January to March 2023, Vinnies supported 849 South Coast locals doing it tough.

“But unfortunately, these numbers are growing daily because of the cost of living pressure and the housing affordability crisis.”

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Limited rental availability – and expensive rents – on the South Coast can make it tough for some to secure accommodation if they’re unemployed or lose their job.

“Sometimes you’re not aware of what’s going on, because it’s not as if we’re in the middle of Sydney where you see homeless people sleeping in shop entrances,” Mr Pope says.

“Down here, because you might not physically see it, you don’t realise the problem is there.”

He encouraged everyone to get involved by signing on as a participant to sleep rough for a night, donating what they could to the cause or starting a conversation to raise community awareness.

“So many people have come on board to support us, which is great, but there’s always room for more people.”

The money raised through the South Coast CEO Sleepout will be put back into support services in the South Coast.

“Funds raised will go towards supporting people in need,” Ms Brown says.

“It will also go towards bringing more specialist homelessness services to the Far South Coast, to provide critical long-term practical support to people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk.”

For more information on how to register or to donate to the Vinnies CEO Sleepout in 2023, visit CEO Sleepout or e-mail [email protected]

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