FOR a high-paid chief executive, sleeping on a sheet of cardboard with only a mug of soup to sustain them on a cold winter’s night is not a comforting thought.
But on June 17, chief executives from all over Australia – including an expected 140 from Western Australia – will experience what it is like to be homeless through an event hosted by the St Vincent de Paul Society.
With an estimated 140,000 Australians homeless on any given night, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout challenges business and community leaders to experience homelessness first-hand, raise money for charity, and with fresh insight go on to effect social change.
St Vincent state fundraising manager Lucinda Ardagh told WA Business News the organisation hopes the national roll-out of the event this year would follow success in Sydney in 2009, where 220 CEOs raised $620,000 from more than 5,000 individual and corporate donations.
“We’re aiming for 1 per cent of homeless people in WA to be represented by the CEOs – so that’s 140 we’re expecting in the sleepout,” she said.
The event, which partners with WA Business News and the Australian Institute of Company Directors, aims to raise more than $1 million in total, with all proceeds going towards the ongoing provision of St Vincent de Paul homeless services.
Since 1865, the St Vincent de Paul Society in WA has advocated for a ‘fair and just community’ by providing comfort and dignity for some of Perth’s most marginalised groups – disadvantaged children and young people, the mentally ill, the homeless, refugees and those oppressed through economic hardship.
With 100 paid staff and more than 3,500 members and volunteers working in the community, the society is one of the largest not-for-profit welfare providers in the state.
Globally, the organisation has more than 950,000 members located in 144 countries, including 40,000 members in Australia.
In 2009-10, the organisation provided more than $5 million worth of assistance to the WA community through emergency welfare relief and homeless and mental health services.
People being assisted are often provided with furniture, clothing and household goods free of charge through the society’s Vinnies Centres.
These retail outlets also offer affordable clothing and goods to the wider community.
Profits from the sale of stock from the outlets are used to provide resources and support to people in need.
St Vincent de Paul chief executive officer John Bouffler – who joined in February after 20 years in banking, including a senior management role at NAB – said offering emergency relief services to WA households remained vitally important as the state recovered from the global financial crisis.
He said St Vincent de Paul made about 20,000 home visitations each year to provide disadvantaged people with relief such as food and food vouchers, clothing and other assistance.
Mr Bouffler said the organisation was focused on preventative measure of homelessness, as well as reactive.
“And that’s what the Vinnies CEO Sleepout is all about, we want to create awareness of homelessness and raise more funds to continue to expand our services to reduce homelessness,” Mr Bouffler told WA Business News.
Most of St Vincent de Paul’s funding is raised through its 43 retail outlets, its winter and Christmas appeals, and from bequests.