Vinnies CEO Sleepout: A visit to Ozanam House

Thoughts-

As a mother of two young girls, I sleep well at night knowing my kids are tucked up safe in a warm bed. But for almost 125,000 Aussies this is not the case.

Over 1 in 10 Australians have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and it’s not all as far from home as you might think: for some, all it takes is an unexpected health diagnosis, a job loss or landlord’s decision to tip the scales, and suddenly, life looks very different. It’s a complex issue – one that’s full of messy stigmas and biases – and one that I really wanted to learn more about ahead of taking part in the CEO Sleepout on 20 June later this month, an amazing initiative run by Vinnies where over 1,500 heads of businesses sleep out on the longest night of the year to raise funds and awareness for homelessness in Australia.

To see firsthand where the donations from the CEO Sleepout would be going, fellow Lefties Giselle Lansell, Lily Brownbill-Stevens and I took a trip down to Vinnies’ Ozanam House in North Melbourne, where a team of remarkable individuals are doing incredible work to give people in need access to food, health services, safe shelter and employment pathways.

The Hub Manager Danny Tilkeridis showed us around. He has tremendous knowledge of the House and the clientele that walk through the doors, and his passion was inspiring and contagious. Our time there was truly eye-opening! Both in terms of the scale of homelessness in Victoria and the level of support being provided. And it showed just how much Vinnies need our continued support.

A huge venture for the resource centre

In 2019, Ozanam House underwent a $48 million upgrade, paid for by selling property, government funding ($10m), philanthropic revenue and saved money. The upgrade allowed them to extend their services to all genders (previously only men) and increase their beds to 134 each night, ranging from crisis accommodation to independent living (more like a lease, often for older residents). There are spaces dedicated to females only (especially for people coming from DV situations), a focus on culturally safe environments and a dedicated space for the 20-25% of the residents who identify as LGBTQI+. The bulk of clients are in the 35-55 age group.

We couldn’t believe how calm and peaceful the House was, and how much respect the volunteers had for the clients and vice versa. Danny said “we found that when clients are treated with respect (like having a real doctor’s waiting room, and coffee shop) they treat the facilities and services with respect.” But apparently it hasn’t always been this peaceful – prior to the renovation, it was a less safe environment with the SWAT team being called out on a weekly basis. All the more proof that with proper funding, spaces like this can do incredible work to give people the safety and services they need to thrive.

On average, Ozanam House serves 300 meals a day, 7 days a week. It costs almost $900,000 per year to run this catering program, with no other funding provided apart from donations from services such as OzHarvest. A third of all Sleepout donations from this year will go to keeping this kitchen up and running.

In terms of health services, Ozanam House has Australia’s only full-time dental chair, and also has nurses on call 3 days a week, plus access to a podiatrist, optometrist, doctor and more. Everyone gets a case manager who works with them to come up with a sustainable solution out of homelessness, including legal and Centrelink support.

It’s an integrated care model that I can only label as impressive. They’ve taken years of experience and learning about what works, what doesn’t and how to really help people, and folded it all in. One thing that particularly shone is how they are more interested in getting successful outcomes for people than filtering a lot of numbers through the system. For example, an onsite café trains people up as baristas and gets them into hospo jobs when they’re ready. Because, as Danny said, “now is the time to break the cycle.”

Help us watch our community’s backs

At Keep Left, we pride ourselves on always finding ways to pop our own bubbles, and one of our core values is to watch each other’s backs – this CEO Sleepout is a powerful opportunity to go further and extend that value into the community.

Before my visit, the concept of homelessness was quite frankly something that terrified me as a prospect. But once you understand the crisis that is happening right now in Melbourne and Australia, it’s easy to see how even the smallest donation CAN make a difference. You don’t have to have personal experience with homelessness to get involved in solving it – and no matter how high up in the corporate world you are, there’s always only a few degrees of separation between you and the community that so deserves the same right to a warm night tucked up in bed.

If through one night of discomfort we can contribute to helping Vinnies do they incredible work they do to give people a roof over their head and get back on track, I feel that’s something to get behind.

If you are in a position to, join us by donating even just a little to the cause.  Click here to donate

A $5 donation:
– Can provide a snack and warm drink at a Vinnies Soup Van.
– Can contribute to the cost of a pair of warm socks to help keep the cold nights at bay.

A $10 donation:
– Can provide a nutritious meal and a hot drink for a person who shouldn’t go hungry in the first place.
– Can cover the cost of basic hygiene products like soap and toothpaste for a family facing hardship.

A $20 donation:
– Can contribute towards a warm blanket or essential clothing for a person experiencing homelessness.
– Can help cover essential medication so people don’t have to make tough choices between their health or keeping the lights on.

A $75 donation: Can help feed a family for a day.