The Sydney Uni Young Vinnies Society Winter Sleepout community event is part of a state-wide effort to increase awareness of the causes of homelessness and what we can all do to help. Hear from our students about how the experience impacted them.
More than 122,000 Australians experience homelessness. Over 58 percent of the homeless population is under the age of 35, and more than 17,600 children under 12 don’t have a stable place to call home.
The Sydney Uni Young Vinnies Society (SUYV) Winter Sleepout is an annual community volunteering project supported by the Student Life Grants program that empowers our students to gain a deeper understanding of the realities of homelessness in Australia.
Students gathered at the University of Sydney Quadrangle at 5:30 pm on 1 September 2023 with just a sleeping bag and a piece of cardboard to confront the realities of homelessness in Australia. By “sleeping rough” in the Quadrangle for one night without heating or comfortable shelter, the initiative aims to raise awareness of homelessness and the detrimental impacts for those who are most affected by the increased cost-of-living and economic crisis.
Through dedicating time and an active commitment to listening and understanding, the experience of the Sleepout teaches an invaluable lesson of the physical and mental challenges people on the streets are confronted with every day.
Students slept on the concrete ground in sleeping bags while experiencing rain and strong wind. Some took shelter under the quad; others braved the elements and slept on the grass. For dinner and breakfast, ‘brekky van’ and ‘night patrol’ meals were served, emulating the food The St Vincent de Paul Society provides to people facing homelessness. The experience creates empathy for those doing it tough.
“Experiencing how we take these basic but essential comforts for granted every day was extremely eye opening and memorable, and has inspired me to continue my journey advocating for the awareness of homelessness,” said Nikki Remedios, SUYV Co-President.
Sleepout participants heard invaluable insights from Sam Crosby, current Executive Director of Membership, Volunteers and Regional Operations at Vinnies NSW, and Damien Ha, 2022 SUYV Co-President and Young NSW Volunteer of the Year in 2021.
“Sam Crosby’s speech emphasised that human connection and empathy for people experiencing homelessness is just as important as any financial contribution,” Kate Rologas, USYD student and participant in the 2023 Sleepout, said.
“Through dedicating time and an active commitment to listening and understanding, the experience of the Sleepout teaches an invaluable lesson of the physical and mental challenges people on the streets are confronted with every day.”
The Winter Sleepout fosters social connections, cohort building, and a sense of belonging.
“We spent a large portion of time during the event getting to know one another and I was able to bond with new and old friends. Sharing this experience with others helped spark meaningful conversations about the realities of homelessness and how we can all help,” Nikki said.
The initiative also allows students to make a difference by raising funds for those most in need in the community. Across 2022 and 2023, student participants in the Winter Sleepout have raised over $11,500 in funding. The funds go to the St Vincent de Paul Society so they can continue to provide help to those in need, including crisis accommodation, food, clothing, and access to support services.
“Over the past two years, we are extremely proud to have raised over $11,500 in total for Vinnies homelessness services,” said Cyrus Dadgostar, SUYV Co-President.
“This year, all funds raised will be donated to Vinnies Van Services to provide meals and snacks, blankets, toiletries, hot beverages, and, most importantly, companionship and referrals where needed to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.”
All cardboard was collected and recycled after the event, and excess catering was donated to the local community.
If you would like to make a donation to the Sydney Uni Young Vinnies Winter Sleepout, please visit the Vinnies NSW website.
The University’s Student Life Grants program makes events like the Winter Sleepout possible, by providing funding and support for students to create innovative co-curricular projects that build a sense of community. Applications are open until 2 November. Apply for a Student Life Grant to make a significant impact on our community, develop your leadership skills, and create positive change.