The annual Vinnies CEO sleepout took place in Melbourne on Thursday night. More than 200 CEOs braved cold and windy conditions as they camped outside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and raised funds for St Vincent de Paul Society’s homelessness services.
The sleepout has so far raised $627,708 in Victoria and more than $5.4 million nationally. According to Vinnies, this will help secure 200 houses for homeless people in Victoria.
However, this year’s sleepout was interrupted by a group of protestors unhappy with the CEOs’ participation in the event. They argue the sleepout glosses over the structural causes of homelessness and wider issues of inequality, taxation and public housing accessibility.
The protestors explained their motive on the Houses Need People, People Need Houses Facebook page.
“Many of the businesses participating in the CEO sleepout have already done far more harm than good. Instead of congratulating them for pretending to be homeless for a night, we need to be holding them to account for their role in growing wealth inequality,” they said.
“As the share of tax paid by big business has shrunk, so has spending on public housing for those in need. Many Australians are suffering from the housing crisis caused by putting the needs of the market before the interests of people. The market can’t solve this growing social crisis, and neither will these CEOs.”
St Vincent de Paul Society said the sleepout attempts to offer a glimpse into the realities of homelessness. It also helps build empathy and raises awareness about homelessness. Many of the CEOs are influential philanthropists who can stimulate change at a wider organisational level.
On Facebook, there were comments both supporting and criticising the sleepout.
“Pretending to be homeless does not help the homeless,” one Facebook user said.
“Once a year? One lousy night a year. Does your conscience feel good?” another user stated.
Other people responded that doing something is better than doing nothing at all and applauded the CEOs for taking action to tackle homelessness.
“The CEO sleepout is not about pretending to be homeless. It has raised huge amounts of much-needed funds to support Vinnies and also helps raise public awareness of an issue that hasn’t been mentioned this federal election,” one comment said.
“The CEO sleepout is not just CEOs of huge corporations, it’s also CEOs of small-to-medium-sized businesses. There are many ways to raise awareness and money and the CEO sleepout is one of them,” another comment read.
On this week’s Friday Forum, we ask: do you think events such as this are an effective way of addressing inequality in Australia?
Image by VicGovernor via Twitter.