As I approached Gate 6 at Etihad I knew I was in the right place, a soup van out front and a stream of people emerging from the dark night, sleeping bags on shoulders and all looking curious.
We proceeded to register and check in for the night with our names marked off, emergency contact details confirmed we were issued with our CEO Sleepout beanie and scarf, then official photo’s before heading into the open concourse area to collect our cardboard which we were to sleep on or make a shelter out of. Then to find somewhere to sleep, as we searched for somewhere out of the wind and cold it soon became apparent that there really was nowhere, so a place up against a wall it was.
The crowd of participants had grown with almost everyone present we were able to have a cup of soup from the soup van and a bread roll – that was it, no other food allowed.
As we stood outside having our dinner and speaking with a food van vetran of 25 years his eye’s became locked on something and before I had a chance to ask what was wrong he was off, weaving through the crowd reaching out to a young boy, he could not have been any older than 15. The volunteer came back and collected some food and soup saying that’s a real one, to shy to come up and get some food himself so I am taking some to him, at that point the reason why we were all there became very apparent and very real.
After this sobering encounter we proceeded inside for the formalities including two people who after extended periods of homelessness had begun to get their lives on track, we heard of their experiences on the streets and in hostels, of the violence and physical attacks they endured, the absence of friends, family and safety. We heard from the Government and not for profit agencies that work in this sector, then it was time for the group photo shot. Once done we were left to our own devices, catching up with old and some new friends before trying to sleep.
The ground was hard, the air was freezing and not surprisingly I was particularly unsuccessful in getting any sleep. The time providing an opportunity for me to think about how fortunate most of us are, and just how unacceptable it is that fellow Australian’s have to endure these types of conditions, especially the children.
Thinking about my great grandfather and his siblings in 1881 being abandoned at age 5 in South Yarra is simply not reconcilable in my mind, the sheer terror of that experience must have stayed with him his entire life and certainly explains for me why he became involved in so many community focused activities later in his life.
In 2011, we still have children; women and men not knowing where they will be sleeping, not knowing where their next meal will come from, nor what their future holds, surely we as a community can and must do better. It’s time the Government took real and tangible action and materially invested in public housing, support services and emergency accommodation now.
It was then 5.30am, raining, windy and still very cold, people were getting up and walking around, media and cameras were arriving and seeking out the Foreign Minister for a series of interviews, the Victorian Governor General arrived for a short speech and we were all able to leave, the night over but the problem still very much present. It was still dark as I headed back to the office it didn’t take long to come across people huddled in corners of buildings, cold, hungry and alone.
In June 2012 I plan to again take part in this cause …..