Kelly Andrews is expecting to feel pretty emotional when she sleeps out in the cold at the Innovation Campus with other business and community leaders this month.
When Ms Andrews was a teenager St Vincent de Paul helped her family. Now she is eager to raise as much as she can during the CEO Sleepout on June 17 to help Vinnies help local people and families in need this winter.
Her family connection with Vinnies also goes back to when her grandfather Patrick O'Connor migrated to Australia from the United Kingdom with his wife and three children decades earlier.
"They have a special place in my heart," she said.
"My pop volunteered for many years for Vinnies and his community in Wollongong.
"He lived in Berkeley and volunteered all of his working life. He helped Vinnies with the truck and the van doing collections around households and dropping them off to needy families.
"He had a strong sense of social justice after growing up poor himself and doing it tough when he came out on a ship from London. He started giving back whenever ever he could."
Ms Andrews was born in Wollongong and Vinnies helped her family after it moved to Port Pirie when she was five.
"There was four of us and my dad was unemployed from when I was 12," she said.
"Mum worked multiple jobs and we were always just scraping through.
"We were in a cycle and couldn't get out of it. We had donations of toys and food from Vinnies at Christmas and other times of the year."
"I grew up with that strong sense of social justice."
Ms Andrews said Vinnies helped her family get through those times and she has been able to go on to become chief executive of Healthy Cities Illawarra.
"I think the risk of homelessness now is there for everybody," she said.
"I decided to take a stand for homelessness this year.
"Property prices are ridiculous at the moment, increasing the risk even more.
"A healthy city is one where every resident has a home to go to, shelter and a bed to sleep in.
"It is a basic human right, and a safe place of belonging should not be something that people have to fight for.
"There is no single cause but a combination of things such as a shortage of affordable housing, domestic and family violence, unemployment, mental ill-health and marriage breakdowns.
"It could be anyone of us, and I'm particularly concerned that the fastest growing group of people becoming homeless are women over 55.
"Given the work we do at Healthy Cities Illawarra, working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals at a local level and addressing health inequality, it means a lot to me to show solidarity and contribute my voice in this year's Vinnies CEO Sleepout."
Ms Andrews said she was also an avid op-shopper and hopes sharing her story will give hope to others including those impacted by drugs, gambling and alcoholism.
"A lot of people if they are unemployed and in that cycle, spend all their money drinking, smoking and gambling trying to self medicate," she said.
"I saw that growing up and have always had that strong sense that you can get out of it with help."
Among Ms Andrews' favourite memories growing up was a day Vinnies were at her house one afternoon.
"My little sister had just walked home from school and was all red, hot, sweaty and sunburnt," she said.
"Vinnies left and came back in half an hour with a bike for her to use. It was very discrete."
Ms Andrews also wants to use publicity around the sleepout to encourage people doing it tough to contact Vinnies and ask for help.
She said making a phone call was one step they could take and there was no shame in asking for food or any other kind of support.
"Sometimes it is just takes the courage to make that first phone call. And then you realise how much support is out there," she said.
June 17 will be a new experience for Ms Andrews when she joins another 17 local chief executives and managers in the Illawarra and thousands more around the nation to help Vinnies CEO Sleepout raise funds for more than 116,000 people who are homeless in Australia each night.
And the 37,000 sleeping in the cold each night in NSW.
Vinnies NSW chief executive Jack de Groot said vulnerable communities in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven were more than ever impacted by homelessness.
And with large proportions of people couch surfing, temporarily living with relatives or friend, in overcrowded boarding houses or sleeping in cars, the issue is largely hidden.
Mr de Groot said each year the Vinnies CEO Sleepout encourages those who lead organisations to sleep outdoors on one of the longest and coldest nights of the year and help raise money to support homeless Australians with crisis accommodation, food, clothing, healthcare and educational programs.
Last year's CEO Sleepout went online during COVID-19 and involved participants sleeping in their backyard, car, or couch.
They they still managed to raise $5.7 million.
But Vinnies is hoping for an even bigger impact this year as participants sleep outdoors in a designated area exposed to the elements at the University of Wollongong's Innovation Campus.
Nationally almost $64 million has been raised since the Vinnies sleepout first began 16 years ago in Sydney.
Across Australia 1550 chief executives and managers have signed up for the 2021 sleepout including 553 in NSW.
"It is an important night for focusing the attention of corporate Australia, all tiers of government and the broader community, on the lived experiences of real people who are experiencing homelessness," Mr De Groot said
"Poverty and social disadvantage are intrinsically linked with homelessness."
Daniel Munk, of Wests Illawarra and the Aster Group, is presently leading the fundraising in Wollongong.
Mr Munk has already raised more than $20,000.
You can sponsor Kelly Andrews here.
- Nine year old son joins mum in the CEO Sleepout on Thursday night to help Vinnies help the homeless
- Vinnies CEO Sleepout participants raise close to $52,000 to help homeless people in the Illawarra
- Wollongong business and community leader raises $25,000 for the homeless as a sleeping super hero
- Aster Group chief executive Daniel Munk highest Wollongong fundraiser in Vinnies CEO Sleepout
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