October 25th, 2013 I did the Centenary Sleepout to help raise funds for the homeless via Communities@Work and St Vincent de Paul. You can still donate if you like here. This was the first time I have done something like this and let me tell you it really made me appreciate the fact that when I was homeless, I was never actually out on the streets, in the cold with my daughters, we were in a garage or at friends places which was much better than outside.
I have heard people say “What’s the point of sleepouts, it’s not really like being homeless!” Those same people have never been homeless. No, it’s not exactly like being homeless. You are in a group, you have a sleeping bag, you are surrounded by people you can talk with, there are facilities like the bathroom, your phone is charged and so on.
BUT you are sleeping outside, on the cold, hard ground. At the Centenary Sleepout it got to -2C. This saw ice on the ground and a sheet of ice on sleeping bags. Yes, people froze! You are without your comforts of home and if, like me, you are the only one in your friends or family who do it, you can arrive feeling pretty alone, unsure if you will have anyone to talk to at all or if you’ll be able to sleep.
I volunteered to help with Communties@Work. I am a volunteer with Vinnies already and absolutely love what I do every week with them, but for the sleepout I was with Communities@Work and they were so nice. I got to meet so many amazing people and had a blast.
So what did I learn from the Centenary Sleepout?
Firstly, many of the statistics about homelessness were not news to me. Or the conditions people live in, how they become homeless or anything like that. I have spent the past 7 months researching homelessness, interviewing people who were homeless and now successful entrepreneurs or CEO’s for my book and volunteering. So, the homeless side of things I didn’t learn much, other thank of course hearing some extremely touching personal accounts.
I did learn some other things about myself and life though.
1.) Volunteering for an event where you know no one is a great way to meet people. I was doing the sleepout on my own so offered to help out if needed. This wasn’t intentionally a way for me to meet people. I figured I would be there, had the time and could help. It takes a lot to do these sort of events and I was open to doing whatever they needed. As a result I got to meet some awesome people, had great conversations and really enjoyed myself.
2.) Say yes more. I am often hesitant when people ask questions, especially if it involves something where I might make an idiot of myself. As extroverted as I am and as confident as I seem, inside I secretly die sometimes if put on the spot. I stepped out of my comfort zone at the sleepout. I overheard Atilla (who I met there and is awesome), asking if anyone would be Yummi.
This is Yummi, The Yellow Van mascot. More correctly, this is a picture of ME as Yummi, because I offered if he could find no one else to do first shift. I have done cheerleading, but never been a mascot. Saying yes, instead of sitting back leads to new experiences.
3.) Being a mascot is hard. Seriously! The outift is heavy, it gets hot, although there is a fan inside Yummi which was good. The shoes are massive and hard to walk in, you can hardly see out and if it’s windy you feel like you’re going to topple over.
But it’s worth it. I got to high five and hug kids, they loved Yummi. I had 2 gorgeous kids help me as we directed people where to go and they were so funny. It was a great experience. Give the choice I’d pick cheerleading over being the mascot, but I would dress up as Yummi again if needed.
4.) Some politicians do care! Pollies get a pretty bad rap most of the time. This is a pic of Andrew Wall from Canberra Liberals (I’m a volunteer, hence the hi vis vest, it’s not a colour I wear.) He was really nice as were members of his team who were there too. One of them was Yummi after me and did a much better job. It was great to get to know Andrew a little and ask him questions, find out why he got into politics and things like that. He was completely genuine about everything too.
5.) I love the Didgeridoo. Ok, I already knew this, but I really did enjoy the Welcome To The Country. I like how people pay respect to the original owners of the land and when Aboriginals perform, welcome or give their blessings at events. I think it is respectful and adds more meaning to what is being done. They are very talented and the music from just the Didgeridoo, vocals and sticks always astounds me.
6.) Listen to your kids. It was so great to see some children there. Sebastian, a 13 year old boy found out a couple of months ago about the sleepout and wanted to participate. His father was not so keen, but did it with him anyway. It was wonderful to see a dad supporting his son and to see such an aware and socially conscious teenager wanting to do something about homelessness. Too often people brush their kids off, or won’t do something like a sleepout with their children because they don’t want to do it. It can be a fantastic learning experience for everyone though and a great way to help your children develop their passions and interests.
There were more kids there than I expected. Ok, I expected none to stay overnight, but there were even kids who were under school age there and they did so well.
7.) I can talk all night if I have good company. I haven’t stayed up all night in a long time. Even when I have gone to FinCon I had to get some sleep. I did not actually sleep at the sleepout. I stayed up with Attilla, who not only has a cool name and an awesome blog, but conversation just flowed and we had a surprising amount in common with heaps to talk about. The person who was meant to keep watch all night ended up asking if we were going to stay up and if so, could she sleep.
This last photo is of the morning when we were starting to wake people up. The lights for the track were turned on, then we had to go around and gently wake everyone up. It was 5am, cold, icy and so quiet. One person there, the owner of Trevs@Dickson had arrived after midnight, did the sleepout then left to go do the morning shift. That is dedication!
So would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I didn’t quite hit my fundraising goal, but I did raise over $500. Given more time (I only registered mid Sept, was away at the beginning of October then it was at the end) I know I could have raised more. I am so grateful to everyone who supported me.
Would you do a sleepout? What fundraising ideas work for you? Have you ever participated in a community event like this?