Young Catholics across Western Sydney have braved the elements and slept rough to raise awareness of homelessness in Australia.
The participants from Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton, and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Seven Hills, were a part of St Vincent de Paul’s Community Sleepout on Friday, August 30.
Team members from the Lourdes Young Adults Group at Our Lady of Lourdes participated in the sleepout event at Western Sydney University’s Parramatta South/Rydalmere Campus. The Good Shepherd team held their event at Good Shepherd Primary School, Plumpton.
Statistics from the St Vincent de Paul Society indicate that on any given night in Australia, 1 in 200 people are experiencing homelessness, with more than 17,000 children under the age of 12 having no permanent home, and 60% of the homeless population under the age of 35.
Micah San Pascual, one of the organisers of the Plumpton Sleepout, said that a member of the parish Antioch youth group came up with the suggestion of the sleepout.
“One of our Antioch members, Trish Pacleb, one of the other organisers, had the idea of becoming more involved with Vinnies activities in our community.
“We originally intended to join the Vinnies Winter Sleepout in Parramatta, but since the event was only open to people 18 years and over, we decided to hold our own event to allow our younger Antioch members, and younger members of our parish to participate.
“Our parish priest, Fr Vincy, was very supportive of the idea from the onset, and has guided us in the whole process of organising the event.
“We are also very fortunate that Vinnies has an active presence in our parish, with several parishioners, including some ex-Antioch members, being a part of the St Vincent de Paul Society,” Micah said.
Ian Epondulan from the Lourdes Young Adults Group said that the youth group jumped at the chance to participate in last year’s Sleepout with thanks to members of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
“Since starting our Young Adults Group in the parish in February 2018, we connected with the St Vincent de Paul Society Parramatta Central Council leaders. Anne Stanfield (President), Janice Stokes (Social Justice and Community Engagement Manager) and Zoe Grant (Social Justice and Youth Coordinator) had given talks at our monthly young adults meetings and have inspired us to put our faith into action.
“Last year, when the inaugural Vinnies Western Sydney Community Sleepout was announced, we jumped at the opportunity to take part and be in solidarity with those who don’t have a place to call home as well as create awareness about solving homelessness, especially in our own backyard of Western Sydney.
“[Last year] was an eye-opening experience for all of us to experience just a glimpse of what it feels to sleep out one night in the rough,” Ian said.
On sleepout night, six members of the Lourdes youth group joined over 110 others in sleeping rough at Western Sydney University, and participated in activities that created an awareness of homelessness.
Ian explained, “participants were given three ‘sleepout tokens’ and with these they had the choice to spend these tokens on a cup of soup, a bread roll or a cardboard box. This placed participants in a tough decision to choose what they valued the most – food or shelter.
“We watched a video presentation about the Vinnies Hubs that showed what actually happens to the donations being sent in, an interactive multiple choice quiz, guessing competitions and silent auctions for prized items such as bidding for a thick jacket to keep warm during the night.
“It was a night for everyone to be inspired to take action on tackling the problem affecting people in our own backyards.”
In Plumpton, 30 participants from the community took part in the sleepout, with organisers planning activities that explored the realities of homelessness.
Micah said, “One activity required people to make decisions about how they would spend their money. They were given a number of scenarios and a set amount of dollars, and they had to decide what they would spend their money on, and if they could afford to make the decisions they wanted to make.
“During our talk, given by a St Vincent de Paul Society representative, participants were able to do a ‘choose your own adventure’-like activity where they found that individuals facing all degrees of homelessness often have a very limited number of choices and rarely do any of them have a positive outcome.”
Both groups said that they would participate in the Winter Sleepout again.
“I felt a sense of community by meeting with other individuals from other parishes and organisations coming together to stand together as one in creating awareness to solve homelessness in Western Sydney.
“This will be an annual tradition for our young adults, and I hope to get more young people involved and supporting this event for 2020,” Ian explained.
Micah said, “at the beginning of the night, we said that as a result of the night, we hoped to create a sense of empathy in order to encourage future action, and I believe that we achieved that goal.
“The team at Plumpton agree that the event was a success, and we look forward to organising another Winter Sleepout next year.”