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Vinnies CEO Sleepout had backyard sleeper thinking about bush homeless doing it tough

Repeat participant: Mary Clark was participating in her eighth Vinnies CEO Sleepout in Brisbane.

BRISBANE business man Troy Setter had homeless people of rural and regional Australia on his mind as he rolled out a swag in his backyard for a “virtual sleepout”.

He was joining business leaders around the nation on June 17 for this year’s Vinnies CEO Sleepout that was like none of the previous 14.

Unable to gather in central locations because of COVID-19 restrictions, CEOs had to go solo and share their experiences with other participants online.

Cars, couches or backyards were favourite positions for the brave souls participating.

The St Vincent de Paul Society was pleased with the result, with the annual event raising $5.5 million, more than double its original target of $2.4 million.

Mr Setter, who is Consolidated Pastoral Company chief executive, said homelessness and the lack of good accommodation or safety was not just a city problem.

“It is also a bush problem, particularly in rural and regional Australia and particularly in communities that have large Indigenous populations … It is a real problem and we all need to do what we can to help,” he said.

Mr Setter, (pictured) who oversees operations in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory for Consolidated Pastoral Company, an agrifood business, said homelessness was more hidden in rural and regional areas, which had been hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdowns.

“The impacts have varied but certainly those who rely on tourism or on the main traffic routes have really been impacted,” he said.

“Whether it is the local pub or caravan parks there, they have really, really struggled.

“Some of the bigger regional centres that rely directly on agriculture or mining are also struggling because the staff who work on properties or in mines haven’t been able to go into town to spend money.

“Homelessness is more hidden in a lot of rural communities, apart from Indigenous areas.

“I was in Katherine last week, (and) still a really significant number of Indigenous people sleep rough every single night.

“Homelessness and lack of quality support is a real problem in Indigenous communities and in towns that have strong or large Indigenous populations.”

Mr Setter said he found this year’s CEO Sleepout a good experience because it highlighted the fact that homelessness was not always in the public eye.

“Certainly, it’s been a good experience for me, trying to raise some money for sponsorship and having those discussions whether members in our own team at our office or out on our property, or friends and family,” he said.

“Often we think of homelessness is people who are sleeping in the street in Sydney or Brisbane or Melbourne and they are very much in the public eye at the train station in Pitt Street or Queen Street Mall, but it is certainly much, much bigger than that.

“It is people who are having to sleep in a car, or at their friend’s place or parents’ place or hiding or embarrassed by it.

“It is the responsibility of all of us, particularly in senior business positions to do what we can to help out those who don’t have the benefits or the luxuries and the freedoms that we do.”

Source ICT director Mary Clark, participating in her eighth CEO Sleepout in Brisbane, was pleased to raise almost $6000, exceeding her target by $1000.

She completed the challenge on a porch swing at her home.

“I was planning to do it in the backyard, but it was raining so I was on my porch swing,” she said.

“It was cold, cold but not wet … It’s alright.

“I thought it was gonna be nicer than being on the ground but after a couple of hours it feels like a park bench.”

Ms Clark was pleased every cent raised went to those who were in most need.

“I grew up in a large Catholic family and we worked in a soup kitchen growing up in St Malachi’s in Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States,” she said.

“I just thought every child would go and help out in soup kitchens and in the community, and it wasn’t until I got older that I realised that a lot of people don’t have that vocation to kind of give back.

“I have three sons and they know when I do this it’s a big deal. They’re proud that I do it …”

Vinnies Queensland chief executive officer Kevin Mercer said Queensland raised $660,000 in this year’s sleepout.

He said after a “cold, long night” sleeping on his Brisbane driveway, the virtual event was a success, and participants should be proud of their efforts.

“The COVID-19 crisis has put homelessness under the spotlight at a time when many Queenslanders are struggling more than ever because of job losses,” Mr Mercer said.

“There are more than 20,000 people experiencing homelessness on any one night in Queensland, including many aged under 25 years.

“With the stimulus packages finishing in September, our biggest fear is more people may be at risk.

“We don’t want to see homelessness spiral out of control.”

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