Bendigo Executives and Directors Sleepout
Roving reporter Emily S slept rough for a night to rase money for and awareness about youth homelessness.
At the ridiculously early time of 6am on Wednesday 21 July 2010 I awoke cold, wet, tired, hungry and, strangely, happy. I was squished into a dilapidated tent with three other girls, I'd had a grand four hours sleep and though I tried desperately to prevent it, my poor, defenceless ears were being attacked on all sides by the infuriating murmurings of the achingly chipper morning people outside. But still, I smiled.
I was waking up to the bitterly cold morning after the 2010 Bendigo Executives and Directors Sleepout (BEDS), a widely supported community endeavour organised by St. Luke's Anglicare, Strategem Financial Services and the City of Greater Bendigo Council to raise much-needed awareness about the issue of youth homelessness in our region.
Call-out for a sleepout
Earlier this year the call was put out to all of the most influential and recognisable leaders in our community to pledge their support to the community sleepout, and the response was overwhelming. 140 CEOs, bosses and senior members of Bendigo's most powerful businesses raised $300 each and sacrificed their suits and their beds (and, perhaps most pressingly, discovering just who would be eliminated out of the final four of MasterChef) to sleep rough, spending the night in tents, swags and under cardboard sheets in Bendigo's Civic Gardens.
As a member of the Student Leadership Team at my school, I was privileged enough to be among them. It was an odd, sort of surreal sight: a sea of mismatched, yet perfectly erected tents and swags (except ours), and squares upon squares of garish blue tarpaulin glaring under the Town Hall lights, the most respected members of our community skipping around in daggy beanies and tattered flannel.
St. Luke's Anglicare
After settling in we were ushered into the Town Hall to participate in an exhibition of sorts. We sat through the mandatory welcoming speeches and sponsor mentions and background information, and then Mr. David Pugh, CEO of St. Luke's Anglicare, took the stage.
St. Luke's Anglicare (new window) is the premier provider of youth homelessness support in the Bendigo region, the number of young people being directly supported by them at any one time totaling around 80. They work in partnership with the local Youth Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (YSAP) and, in a 12 month period, will work with 500 young people, provide case management support for 320 and arrange short-term accommodation for approximately 180. It was for them and for their clients that we were there tonight.
Mr. Pugh began favourably, alerting all those who were impatiently wondering (which was everyone) that Jimmy had indeed left the MasterChef kitchen. After the uproarious cheers had calmed, he switched to a more focused topic, launching straight into describing his delight about the support that BEDS had received. He called the event "a line in the sand" and said hat he hoped that "...the issue of youth homelessness would now become a priority for our whole community."
Telling their own stories
Then the guest speakers were introduced. I, as well as everyone present, was amazed. Stereotypes were shattered.
The first speaker, Matt, stood, comfortable and confident, and commanded the stage, exuding charm and intelligence and normalcy. What he spoke of - his battles with drugs, alcohol, family and loneliness prior to receiving help from St. Luke's - seemed so out of sync with the man before us that he could have easily been talking about a separate person, a separate life.
Steve, too, spoke of the brutal realities of homelessness in the Bendigo region, though without the polished delivery of Matt. Rather than detracting, however, this merely added to the weight of his offerings.
Sarah spoke of pride, and of how it almost cost her herself, forcing her to leave it almost disastrously late before she sought for "the help of the professionals." She also offered insights into the cruel helplessness that homeless youth were often faced with, like her car.
She needed her car to get to work, but her car had broken down and she needed to go to work to fix her car. She was teary, and read for most of her speech from a double sided sheet of paper. This didn't affect her sincerity and emotion wasn't in the slightest. Her words flowed and lilted almost like poetry.
The speeches of these three people sparked the participants into action, and almost overnight Mr. Pugh was bombarded with extra offers to help the people who had shared so much with them. A local car dealer offered to fix Sarah's car for free, several businesses told of work experience spots that were open for Matt and Steve, members of my school spoke with Sarah and Steve for an hour afterwards and Matt and I sang an a capella version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" to the delight of ourselves and the bemused pain of others.
A successful night
The BEDS fundraiser raised over $60,000 for St. Luke's and, most importantly, ensured that the serious issue of youth homelessness was at the forefront of our leaders' minds, which was especially important heading into National Homelessness Week.
Reflecting on the event later, Mr. Pugh said, "When fundraising goes beyond money and assists us to achieve our mission through community building, we've done well."
We certainly had.
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