Ronnie Altit, CEO Insentra participated in the CEO Sleepout a few weeks ago. Here is his personal account
What an absolutely humbling experience that has had a profound impact on me and my thoughts towards the homeless. Below are some of the things I learnt in the past 14 hours. It is a long post but please do take the time to read it.
1. I knew very little about the state of homelessness in Australia. I understood homeless people to be the stereotypical image of someone looking haggard and sleeping on the streets, park benches, under bridges etc. In fact it is much larger than that… it includes people who live in overcrowded housing, those who bounce from one Vinnies found accommodation home to the next on a nightly basis, battered women who seek refuge with nowhere to go and the list goes on!
2. I heard stories that brought tears to my eyes and gave me goose bumps. One such story raised the hairs on the back of my neck and filled me with anger…. the story of a woman who was raped repetitively by her “husband” (read asshole)… now get this… she was being raped in front of her five year old child!!!! What could possibly make a man become such an animal?! She had no where to go, no family to turn to and full of fear to share her story. Enter Vinnies who provided her and her child refuge. The problem still exists.. where does she go from there. How does she rebuild her life? No money, no family, no support network. And the asshole husband gets to continue his life as the burden of proof is on HER! What a calamitous situation!
3. The reinforcement of how fortunate I am. I was raised in a household full of love, affection and support. I have a beautiful family and network of wonderful friends… something a lot of people don’t have.
4. Homelessness is NOT a choice. Often it is a domino effect… lose a job, cant afford to keep the current home, no where to go, no family or support, lose your partner as a result, have no income, no savings and no where to sleep. People with psychiatric problems that come out of therapy and have no where to turn, and many more such examples. Simple as that…
5. St Vincent de Paul is much more than a few clothing bins around the country. It is a network of incredible people that provide much much more. Refuges to cater for many different types of cases such as women, children, men, mentally ill etc. The services they provide are broad and frankly very special. I had the pleasure of talking to some of the staff at the refuges and the passion I felt coming from them was nothing short of incredible.
6. Although the ambient temperature wasn’t too bad at about 9 degrees, sleeping on a concrete floor is VERY cold. There I was with my warm jumper, ski jacket, gloves, beanie, scarf and sleeping bag… and I was cold. Waking up in the middle of the night to visit a bathroom was far from a pleasant experience… get out of bag, put on shoes, walk over 150m to the bathroom, come back, get into bag and try to get warm again.
7. There is so much we can all do to assist and it is not that difficult. It can be as simple as approaching some of the homeless people and saying hello and just making them feel less lonely. Understanding that they did not choose to be where they are… their circumstances have created their situation and they would definitely avoid it if they could.
8. The source of the majority of homelessness is often socioeconomic and it is a self-fulfilling issue i.e. the way some people are raised are often seen as OK and then passed on to future generations. Some people get past it and others take a different path. Education is critical. People need to know and be educated in the fact that things CAN be different and need to be educated as to HOW to be different. Vinnies have incredible people and support environments to help conquer this issue.
8. The goal set by the government of halving homelessness by 2020 is a very aggressive target that will frankly be unattainable without continued raising of awareness, education of the greater public and contribution by all who can to work towards this end goal.
9. We say we live in the luckiest country in the world and that is true for the majority of people. It is this minority that needs to be rectified. Our indigenous community is where a lot of help needs to go. 1 in 20 indigenous people are homeless. Unacceptable!
10. My philanthropic efforts in the past have been about putting my hand in my pocket and giving funds. Having spent just one night in the shoes of a homeless person has changed my views dramatically. I was fortunate to be able to go home and receive affection from my family, a hot shower and a meal… and I craved that after only one night in the shoes of someone else. I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to live day in day out as a homeless person, wondering where my next meal is going to come from.
11. It is not just about the money. It can be as simple as sharing the knowledge and helping to educate where possible. Even talking about it is more than simply donating funds (which in itself is obviously important).
12. Whilst last, far from least. I was heartened by the comments and likes on Facebook, the people that re-tweeted my tweets, SMS’d wishes, checked in to see how I was doing and of course, the donations that were provided before I started. I felt very blessed to have such a network of people around me and to have such tremendous support from my friends and family. Realistically however, I did very little., I put myself out there but for one night… others do it EVERY night and often with little to no choice! For those of you who provided support I sincerely thank you. You made a real difference to me and to others.
As you can see from this long post, I have certainly been motivated to further invest time and effort in helping to reduce this horrible situation. I hope that by sharing this information with you I have done a few things…
1. Helped to educate you and share what I learnt last night
2. Motivated you to not just “like” this post but to “Share” this post so that we can together educate as many people as possible
3. Had you rethink your inclination to donate even $5 to Vinnies to support this effort. Donations can still be made. Click on my link below and do what you can to give back. Don’t buy a cup of coffee for a couple of days, donate the $5 (depending on where you buy coffee!) and for those two mornings do what I did at the Sleepout… deprive yourselves of something so that you actually think about what others go through.
Many thanks again to you for reading this far! I will definitely be there again next year! Maybe you would like to join me?