It happens at around 1am – the familiar snarl of cars, trams, busy footpaths and ambient noise disappears. It’s then I think about what it must feel like to be isolated, vulnerable and insecure out in that abandoned landscape.
That’s when I most deeply contemplate what life must be like for more than 105,000 Australians who sleep rough every night. I also think about the moment in time my great grandfather, George Dent, was deserted by his mum and dad as a five-year-old. He would never see them again.
This week I participated in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout for my fourth year. In those moments of silence, my mind was restless with thoughts about what life is like for homeless people and what it feels like to be abandoned.
One of my key reasons for doing the Sleepout is to honour the memory of my great grandad. In January 1882 George and siblings were found by a police sergeant in a house in South Yarra, where they had been living on scraps of bread they had been scrounging from neighbours for two weeks.
I can’t imagine how distressing and confronting that would have been for George and his family.
I think of the Sleepout in terms of the way participants interact and the unwritten law that CEOs leave their well-practiced networking skills at the gate the moment they walk into Etihad Stadium.
We are there to contemplate Australia’s growing homelessness crisis, why two in three people are turned away from crisis shelters every day and what we can do as leaders across a diverse range of sectors to change it.
As they always do, key moments during the Sleepout feel palpable. I think about the moment when George realised he wouldn’t see his mum and dad again, and the opportunities ahead of me to help address the imbalance of services for homeless people.
And when the clock strikes one, I think about the vulnerabilities homeless people face, including sexual assault and other attacks, and whether, during those early hours, they really can sleep, rest a little or even let their guard down for a short while.
When the gentle murmur of Melbourne’s CBD slowly comes back to life at 4am, I ponder what else we can do to make homelessness a priority beyond more than one night of the year.
Whilst the sleep out may be over for another year, your opportunity to donate is still open for a few more weeks, help put homelessness to bed and donate via this link: www.ceosleepout.org.au/ceos/vic-ceos/craig-dent-state-trustees