Young entrepreneurs join forces with corporate tycoons to tackle homelessness

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Chief executives across Australia took to the streets last week in a fundraising effort to raise awareness about the suffering and everyday challenges faced by people who are homeless.

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of Vinnies CEO Sleepout, organised by the St Vincent de Paul Society, and more than $5 million has already been raised.

While the campaign is well recognised for taking the heads of mogul corporations and big banks out of their comfy, luxe bedrooms and propping them out in the stark cold, an increasing number of new entrepreneurs are also signing up.

This year’s campaign saw the likes of Stylerunner founder Julie Stevanja, Vinomofo co-founder Justin Dry and WINK Models and TheRight.Fit founder Taryn Williams camp outside for a night.

Sydney temperatures dropped to a few degrees and Melbourne was hit by a storm, while the participants slept on cardboard outdoors.

More than 100,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Australia and for many, these conditions are an everyday experience.

“It was incredibly eye-opening,” Williams says, who spent the night with Stevanja and ShowPo founder Jane Lu.

The night started with an experience where Williams and fellow executives were made to walk in the shoes of a person who is homeless.

“Each one of us that do the sleep out comes away with so much knowledge,” she told SmartCompany.

In the role-play, Williams had an injury that made her lose her job. Unable to return to work she found herself couch surfing before running out of options and ending up on the streets, which lead her down a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse.

“Then you have to go to New South Wales Housing for housing support,” she says.

But because she had a drug and alcohol problem in the scenario, she was told go get help first because they won’t provide housing if she has been drinking.

Additionally, the trauma and fear of being robbed and attacked is detrimental, she says.

“Then you’re directed to mental health support,” she says.

Accessing government housing support that most people assume is easily available isn’t that simple and many vulnerable people are turned away because of these complex issues, says Williams.

“People that are asking for help are falling between the cracks,” she says.

Organisations like Vinnies help people in these gaps and Williams hopes her efforts will help them continue their work.

She says the other issue is getting support to people at risk of becoming homeless early on so they when they do lose their job and are about to be evicted, they are directed to the right services before things spiral down further.

With a goal of raising $15,000 for Vinnies, Williams will donate $5 on behalf of anyone who shares a photo of themselves on Instagram or Facebook with “#40WINKS”.

“It’s incredibly important in my team in both businesses, it’s important to see how much we give back,” she says.

Dry hopes Vinomofo’s involvement in the event will help reduce the number of nights vulnerable people spend on the streets.

“As founders, Andre [Eikmeier] and I are extremely passionate about the issue and have been supporting charities in this space for a long time, however, it wasn’t until he told me about how worthwhile the experience was last year that I decided I’d get involved in the event,” Dry told SmartCompany.

“It’s part of Vinomofo’s mission to do some good for the world so giving back is a big part of our culture.

“It becomes part of the foundation and attracts like-minded people to the team.”

This article was first published on SmartCompany.

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Dinushi Dias is a journalist at StartupSmart and multimedia content producer. When she’s out of the office, she works on social projects with her We Love It Productions family and buddying filmmakers.
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