Students braved the rain and the cold for the annual winter sleepout in the University of Sydney Quadrangle on September 1.
The Sydney Uni Young Vinnies (SUYV) sleepout aimed to fundraise for Vinnies’ van services and raise awareness of the increasing homeless population.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2021 Census data revealed that over 120,000 Australians experience homelessness daily. This is an increase of 5.2 per cent since the 2016 Census.
Cyrus Dadgostar, co-president of SUYV, said the sleepout had around 50 participants that included students from Usyd, UTS and Notre Dame University. “I think every year we are getting more attention and just gaining a greater awareness of what we do as a society,” he said.
Homelessness-themed activities included movie sessions, and speeches from Vinnies’ executive director Sam Crosby and SUYV ex-president Damien Ha.
“A simple acknowledgement and to treat the homeless like normal human beings, that’s what we as a society wanted people to realize throughout this event,” Dadgostar said.
Some participants were attracted by the sleepout cause. “I want to help the homeless,” Zheng Liang, a Usyd masters student, said.
Others found the sleepout interesting. “I’ve never slept at uni before and I think it sounds cool,” Aarya Phansalkar, a Usyd freshman said.
After the sleepout, some expressed their discomfort and realisation of the harsh conditions. “After the night, you’re just painfully aware of how cold it can get, how hard the floor can be, and how lucky we are,” Phansalkar said.
Leon Rebecchi, a UTS student with past sleepout experience, said it did not get any easier. “Though I’ve done it twice, it’s equally as uncomfortable. We’re lucky that we’re in the Quad, and we had security guards looking over us. People sleeping out there are obviously unwatched and unprotected.”
Vinnies’ executive director Sam Crosby said the compounding cost of living and stagnant wage growth exacerbated homelessness in Australia. He stressed the need to increase public service wages so the private sector would then follow, and suggested setting median house prices nationally. There was also a need for greater investment in crisis services he said, and encouraged people to get involved and believe that “every little bit helps”.
“The biggest impediment is people not believing that they can help. We’ve [Vinnies] got a hundred different ways that you can volunteer,” he said.
“The leverage that we need [to better the community] are your resources. It’s your friends. It’s your time, it’s your money. That’s how we move things forward.”
Attitudes to homelessness had “really shifted”, he said.
“A few years ago, it was a more individualistic response, as in that person’s done something that’s ended them up here [homeless]. I think that attitude has really shifted.
“There is a growing realisation that this could be your mother, your sister, your brother who may not have done anything wrong.”
SUYV plans to hold a Vinnies Ball together with Young Vinnies from other universities.
Regionally, Vinnies is expanding its van services to provide essentials, companionship and referrals to those at risk and facing homelessness.