Vinnies CEO Sleepout
Please find below a message from Alex Byrne, State Librarian (via PLN)
As you are aware, I participated in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout last night, the longest night of the year. I was one of 1046 CEOs nationwide, 278 in NSW and about 250 at Carriageworks in Sydney who participated, had a cup of soup and a roll and slept out. Fortunately it didn’t rain and wasn’t too cold although there was a stiff breeze.
Those who supported participants by donating money to Vinnies raised $4.75 Million nationally and $1,653,398 in NSW at last count, much more than in previous years. My thanks to those who gave in my name: we raised $3205. Some indicated their names but I haven’t thanked you individually because I didn’t want to use my position to exert any pressure on anyone to give: donation should be a personal decision. I am grateful on behalf of the homeless nonetheless.
But I have very much appreciated all the messages of support from across the State Library, the public library network and beyond sent via the Vinnies CEO site or made to me directly. It’s wonderful to have such strong recognition of the importance of tackling homelessness. I also appreciated the thoughtful suggestions for books I might take. I took one of the most frequently suggested titles, George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, which is one of my favourite books as an accomplished plongeur. But I didn’t get time to read it because we spent the evening hearing stories from people who have been or are homeless and discussing ways in which we could make a difference.
The stories were poignant and certainly give us cause for empathy and to rethink any stereotypes we might have about homelessness. One was told by woman who walked out of a violent relationship with small children and found herself homeless: she has just completed a Masters and her children have done well in school thanks to ‘the kindness of strangers’ as she said.
Another, which moved many of us to tears, was told by a 21 year old woman who was thrown out of home by her mother aged 10. At her young age, she has had a decade of homelessness, going from one refuge to another, sometimes staying with school friends (when she has been able to go to school), often abused physically, mentally and sexually. A marvellously resilient and intelligent young woman, she is studying now but had no job and nowhere to live until last night when one of the CEOs offered her a job.
And a man who had told a previous Sleepout about his fear of being bashed while sleeping rough is now studying law and getting Distinctions and High Distinctions while writing assignments on a laptop in the street also had nowhere to live until a lawyer arranged last night for a law firm to sponsor him to complete his studies.
The statistics are stark. Each night, some 105,000 Australians are homeless while others are caught in abusive relationships because they have nowhere to go. 58% of those who are homeless are under 35, 44% are women (coincidentally the same proportion of women CEOs participated last night) and they include 12,000 children under 12 years old.
The stories and statistics give us pause. What can we do in our work and personal lives to change this situation which is unacceptable in our rich country? While making a personal commitment to more often greet homeless people and talk with them, I wonder what I as a librarian and as State Librarian can do to raise awareness of homelessness, increase understanding and provide assistance to our fellow Australians who find themselves homeless.
Thank you again for your support, generous messages and book suggestions. The titles will be listed in Public Library News. Please stop and talk with homeless people and join me in doing our bit to overcome homelessness.
For more information, see http://www.ceosleepout.org.au/ Next year’s CEO Sleepout will be on 20 June 2013.