By Paul Dobbyn
BRISBANE Catholic Education executive director Pam Betts got a faint sense of the fear with which homeless people live as a first-time participant in last year’s St Vincent de Paul Society’s CEO Sleepout.
“Here I was safe inside the South Bank Piazza with many people around me including well known identities such as Kevin Rudd and Paul Pisasale,” she said.
Then, at some point through the night as she tried to sleep on the cold concrete with a piece of cardboard and a light blanket for bedding, the noises started.
“They were very strange noises,” Ms Betts said.
“Actually I tried to focus on them to get some sense of what it must be like for those sleeping unprotected on the streets – particularly young women.
“It was so disturbing to think about.”
Ms Betts and two Catholic principals – Kerrie Tuite, of Mt Alvernia College, Kedron, and Brendan Cahill, of Brigidine College, Indooroopilly – are about to take part in their second CEO Sleepout.
Already they have raised nearly $9000 from sponsorships as they prepare to sleep rough for the night of Thursday, June 19.
This money forms part of nearly $343,000 already raised by CEOs for the 2014 event.
Ms Betts, MsTuite and Mr Cahill met at South Bank a week or so before the event to discuss last year’s sleepout.
All three agreed the experience had many benefits – both for their own understanding of what they described as “a problem right on our own doorsteps” as well as a way to give an example to Catholic school communities.
There are more than 105,000 Australians who are homeless.
Queensland has the third-highest homeless population in Australia at 19,838 people.
Of these about 57 per cent are 34 years or younger.
“What is really disturbing is that nearly 30 per cent of these homeless are children under 18 years,” Ms Betts said.
“Yes, and some of these children who are sleeping out on our streets are just young girls and have children themselves,” Mr Cahill said.
Ms Tuite said Mt Alvernia had a “long tradition of being involved with Vinnies and are very involved in social justice”.
She said she’d had “smidgins of sleep” at last year’s event and the “little drift of rain at three or four in the morning was somewhat refreshing”.
Mr Cahill said Brigidine College students had raised his awareness of the plight of the homeless.
“The girls at our school have been heavily involved with the Brisbane City Council’s Homeless Connect,” he said.
“The sleepout was an opportunity for me to do something to raise awareness of the issue.
“The thing to remember is that homelessness can happen to anyone.”