The forecast predicted rain, possibly heavy. On the night there was heavy downpour, thunder, and lightning. And participants of the Lifewise Big Sleepout – 115 leaders and influencers from around the country – had nothing but a cardboard mattress and their sleeping bag. Despite the weather they slept rough for one night to not only raise awareness about youth homelessness but also raise over $300,000 at the 8th annual Lifewise Big Sleepout.
The Big Sleepout, held on 6 July this year, is Lifewise’s largest fundraiser and calls upon influential New Zealanders to forgo the comfort of a warm bed for one night and experience what thousands of homeless New Zealanders face on a daily basis – a cold, wintery night exposed to the elements.
With over half of New Zealand’s homeless population aged under 25 (and a quarter of those being children), this year’s event put the spotlight on ending youth homelessness. Each “rough sleeper” was asked to raise at least $2000 to support initiatives that help us to place young people into permanent homes and have access to the support services they need. Together they have now raised an impressive $305,279!
With another few weeks until the fundraising deadline, we are optimistic about reaching our final target of $350,000.
On the night
The evening itself proved to be informative and thought-provoking. Before bedding down for the night, participants were encouraged to think creatively and break down pre-conceived notions of what is an extremely complex issue.
They were also treated to an exclusive performance by Niuean singer-songwriter Tommy Nee. The song called “Walk With You”, commissioned by Sarah Trotman ONZM, is about the reality of youth homelessness. “Homelessness is a huge issue within our communities,” says Tommy, “and so this song is my way of saying it’s time to stop talking about it and actually do something.”
Participants learnt how last year’s funds enabled Lifewise to introduce the concept of Housing First to New Zealand and partner with five NGO’s in Auckland to bring it to fruition. The Housing First approach is simple to understand: If you are sleeping rough, you need somewhere safe to live before anything else. Once you have a home, then you can make the best use of what support is available, such as health, counselling, and financial services.
More recently, the Housing First collective received two years of funding from the government. In the past month alone, Lifewise together with Auckland City Mission, have managed to place 15 people into permanent homes.
Together we are stronger
Lifewise would like to acknowledge the commitment of their sponsors, including AUT, with whom they have an ongoing relationship. “Homelessness is a downward spiral of devastation,” says Sarah Trotman ONZM, Director of Business Relations at AUT’s Business School.
Sarah was on the steering group that established the Big Sleepout in 2010. She has continued to support the project each year since. Currently, she is the second highest fundraiser. “Next time you see someone sleeping rough, give them a smile and encourage the same community spirit in your children too,” she says.
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