AFTER Helen Yost shivered her way through the CEO Sleepout on June 22, with just two hours of sleep, she vowed she would go home and hug her two daughters “extra tight tonight”.
“I was afforded the luxury of a sleeping bag, a blanket, three pieces of cardboard, two layers of clothing … I had my beanie and my ugg boots and I was still really cold,” Ms Yost said.
“It didn’t matter which way I put the cardboard, the wind found a way of getting into the sleeping bag and onto my face.
“And to think there are over 105,000 people sleeping on the street with less than what I had.”
The temperature dropped to 11 degrees as Ms Yost – who runs an all-female plumbing service, Tradettes – and 170 local business, community and government leaders braved the cold weather under the Story Bridge for the St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland’s annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout.
Brisbane participants raised more than $528,000, which will provide direct support to those in need through care packs, emergency assistance and housing for vulnerable people facing homelessness.
The event attracted more female CEOs than ever before – a total of 70 women participants.
“It was definitely an eye-opener, for everything I take for granted each day, like food, water, shelter, hot showers, private amenities that I don’t have to share with the public,” Ms Yost said.
She is a parishioner at St Joseph and St Anthony, Bracken Ridge, and her two daughters, aged seven and eight, attend St Joseph’s Primary School.
A qualified plumber, her business employs a team of 10, including five apprentices – the first all-all female plumbing and landscaping business in Australia – which has been operating since 2013.
Ms Yost said participating in the CEO Sleepout resonated in a personal way.
“As a child, my family experienced homelessness,” she said.
“We lived in a caravan park for about eighteen months and we moved quite a lot because my parents didn’t have the financial stability to rent a property on a long-term basis.
“So we moved around a lot and there were a few nights when we slept in the family car because we didn’t have anywhere to live.
“I definitely credit those experiences with the resilience I have today.”
Ms Yost said the extent of homelessness in Australia was reinforced when she recently visited Melbourne with family.
“I saw the extent and severity of homelessness for the first time. It is very exposed in Melbourne,” she said after visiting Flinders Street Station where many of the city’s homeless congregate.
“It was heartbreaking. My children and I bought some food and drink for the homeless and we gave it out as a family.
“I think that was very important for my children to experience. They are more appreciative of the small things, and the big things we do for them.”
St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland chief executive officer Peter Maher used this year’s CEO Sleepout to announce the organisation had invested more than $6 million in housing in the past year, using funds raised at previous events.
The new housing is located around Queensland, including Cairns, Mackay, Toowoomba and Brisbane, and is being used to house families and individuals who would otherwise have no place to call home.
“Brisbane’s business, community and government leaders rose to the challenge to raise much-needed funds to help Vinnies provide immediate relief to people in crisis, and to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness,” Mr Maher said.
Vinnies provides crisis accommodation to individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as advocacy support, budgeting services, living skills programs, emergency relief, transitional housing and access to programs that help rebuild lives.