The Vinnies CEO Sleepout is an annual event that aims to help change the lives of Australians experiencing homelessness. This year, QuickFee Australia’s Managing Director Bruce Coombes took part for the 4th time, raising over $13,000 to provide food, accommodation and essential services to people at risk of experiencing homelessness.
Specifically, the funds raised by Bruce will provide 37 individual support programs, 97 beds and 391 meals – making a real impact to the lives of people experiencing homelessness and living below the poverty line.
Bruce joins us today to answer a few questions about his experience at the annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout.
Can you tell us what motivated you to be part of the CEO Sleepout?
BRUCE COOMBES: “I think it’s probably been said by many people before, mental health is something that, by the grace of God, could affect any of us and the step from there to homelessness is not that great. Equally, homelessness doesn’t choose, it’s not that someone just woke up one day and said ‘oh, I don’t want to live in a house anymore’. It’s a sequence of events or some very unfortunate circumstances and I have empathy – so let’s help these people.”
Can you describe the general experience of the event?
BRUCE COOMBES: “Most people I think, certainly myself, would describe it as quite a moving event. We have people that Vinnies have helped over the course of a period of years come and speak to us and share a bit of their journey. In almost every case it’s a heart wrenching story and there’s some sad tales of domestic violence involved, that put you in a place where you truly are humbled and realise that what you’re doing truly is making a direct difference.”
How did you manage the cold?
BRUCE COOMBES: “I can absolutely 100% assure you that there is not a lot of give in concrete. You literally sleep on one piece of cardboard on a very cold concrete pavement. In Sydney we do it down at the White Bay cruise terminal, so you get a nice fresh breeze as well, and its cold. It’s as simple as that. This is the experience. For us, we chose to do this, for many others there is no choice. Tonight, they have to do exactly the same thing.”
What is your general feedback about the food?
BRUCE COOMBES: “Very much a soup kitchen style experience, the food consists of your choice of three different soups and a bread roll. So, for the vast majority of middle-class people that would put us in bed hungry and again, that’s a fresh experience for most of us.
Again, the people we are helping would be doing that every night. It’s sustenance, it’s certainly not what we would all call, in the middle-class world, dinner.”
Did you actually get any sleep?
BRUCE COOMBES: “Well, I’m very fortunate to be blessed with the ability to sleep almost anywhere. Most of our team can attest to that. So, ignoring the very much an unknown requirement apparently to be a CEO – which is the ability to snore loudly – the ability to sleep is actually not too bad.
Thankfully I had a nice warm sleeping bag which is now being donated literally as we speak to a homeless person. But in the absence of that, with a thread bare blanket, and not a particularly lot of warm clothes it would be very difficult. We are very fortunate to have slept rough but in fact not as rough as those we are helping.”
Did you interact much with the people around you?
BRUCE COOMBES: “Yeah, you do. The vast majority of people don’t know each other. There are a few teams. You can do this as a team’s event. But the vast majority of us don’t know each other. It was nice to see the number of multiple years participants, same as myself, who have done it and it was great to see people who have done it for the very first time. It’s a good thing to see this continuing momentum.”
What were your key learnings?
BRUCE COOMBES: “It’s the least you can do. The absolute least you can do for those who, in most cases through no fault of their own, find themselves without a bed to sleep in tonight and to be able to do something which contributes to that, gives them a meal. One of the great things that Vinnies does is they go beyond giving you something to eat and a blanket at night to helping you find a home, helping you find share accommodation, helping you find social housing, helping you find a job. They have a service which actually helps the children of mums, which have had to leave a domestic violence situation, just with homework. One of the speakers last night shared how her eldest daughter is now doing a double degree at university. This money, everybody’s contribution, is making a difference. Not to one generation but to many.”
You have been involved in this event for a few years now, has your vision of the event and the cause evolved throughout this time?
BRUCE COOMBES: “With last year being COVID affected, it was totally different, it was really nice to be back and seeing, probably I’d say a greater level of enthusiasm than I’d seen two years prior. So, its great to see new people embracing it and some old hands still doing it – keeping it alive. Keeping the important amount of fundraising alive for basically the 116,000 Australians that don’t have a permanent home tonight.”
After experiencing this, what do you think is the biggest challenge for a person experiencing homelessness?
BRUCE COOMBES: “I think the challenge is ‘how is this going to change’? Tonight, I’m going to sleep in a warm bed, I’ll probably have a lovely two course meal or whatever. These guys are going to have soup and bread again. I think, what do you need more than anything to sustain life – you need hope and Vinnies bring hope. So, I think the challenge is knowing that there is a way out.”
To learn more about the event or support the cause, please visit the CEO Sleepout Website.