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Bosses tackle homelessness lying down at Vinnies CEO Sleepout

Stephen Tait

Challenge: Stephen Tait was challenged to walk in the shoes of the homeless at the Vinnies CEO Sleepout. Photo: Supplied.

STEPHEN Tait spends his days helping small businesses thrive in Queensland but after walking in the shoes of a woman escaping domestic violence, he wants to spend his nights ending homelessness.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland chief executive officer joined more than 180 business leaders for Vinnies CEO Sleepout on June 21.

For the first time since the event launched in Brisbane nine years ago, the CEOs took on the role of a person who is seeking assistance from government bodies “to walk a mile in their shoes”.

For Mr Tait, he spent the first portion of the Sleepout in the shoes of a mother who escaped with her daughter from a violent partner.

The mother, who is a real person to the St Vincent de Paul Society, slept in the car with just two pillows, an overnight bag and her daughter’s teddy bear.

The exercise took Mr Tait through the “hoops” that people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness jump through just to stay alive.

“I found the exercise an incredibly moving experience and as I moved through the stations becoming more and more engaged, moved and frustrated by the challenge,” he said.

“But the most important part, I felt, is that evening and for the days following, and all weekend, I have discussed this with so many people in my social circle, that it’s message has been continued with an equally emotional response.

“I truly believe the more CEOs can continue the conversation, through exercises like this, the more impact we can make with this terrible issue.”

In an email to the society, Mr Tait congratulated the organisers for taking the CEOs on an “emotional rollercoaster”.

“I saw people moved to tears as they saw just a glimpse of the traumatic journey of those less fortunate than ourselves and began to realise the purpose, significance and importance of why we take part in the CEO Sleepout,” he wrote.

Vinnies chief executive officer Peter Maher said the addition of the new exercises changed the impact of the 2018 Vinnies CEO Sleepout.

“I’d have to say it was the best Sleepout we’ve had, without a doubt,” Mr Maher said.

“We put (the CEOs) through all these different hoops (the homeless) have to go through. Some (of the CEOs) were getting very frustrated.

Eventually they get referred to Vinnies and the people sat down with them, talked with them, provided them with food.

“People found this extremely moving.”

Mr Maher said the funds would be used for “building bricks and mortar” to create affordable housing solutions for Queensland’s homeless.

“If you can’t house a person, it’s all fine to give them a bit of food or put them up in a hotel, but what are you going to do long term?” he said.

Mr Maher said it should be illegal to allow a person to become homeless.

“It is embarrassing as an Australian to think that people are homeless,” he said.

“I think as Australians all of us should be ashamed, that we are so wealthy, we can afford to buy a coffee at an expensive restaurant, we have cars to travel around in, plenty of food, large houses, we go on nice holidays.

“And at the same time we’ve got people in Australia who are sleeping rough.

“We don’t want to be like New York and Canada; we’re not a Kolkata. 

“What are we doing about it?” 

Brisbane’s Sleepout event raised $1.065 million and the Sleepout on the Gold Coast raised more than $463,000.

Power couple Trevor and Judith St Baker pledged a $750,000 donation over five years to Vinnies Queensland, and were named the state’s top fundraiser.

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