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ACN chief executive Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward at the Vinnies CEO Sleepout. Ward's sign reads: 731,000 children live below the poverty line. Photo: ACN

Nurse CEO on this year’s sleepout for homelessness

Australian College of Nursing chief executive Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward has rugged up against the first frosts of Canberra’s winter this year to again participate in a sleepout for homelessness.

The Vinnies CEO Sleepout aims to raise both awareness of the plight of people experiencing homelessness and money to provide them with access to food and accommodation, as well as health services and other supports to help people overcome poverty in the long term.

Ward said while one night isn't a lot, it can make a whole lot of difference. By Vinnies's calculations, her fundraising efforts this year – $4,365 raised so far – will be used to support 13 individual support programs, 36 beds and 145 meals.

Overall this year, Vinnies has raised just under $6.6m, surpassing its goal of about $6.4m and last year’s total of $5.6m.

This year’s Sleepout was Ward’s third. She said it was a privilege to register again.

“Being a single mother myself, it is especially important for me to raise awareness for women and children who face homelessness and poverty. I can only imagine the hardships that are placed upon women who are homeless and need to care for their children as well.”

She said it was also important for her to represent and honour the nursing profession for the work that nurses do caring for those in need, including the homeless.

“There are 350,000 registered nurses in Australia. We provide care all day, every day, everywhere.

“Nurses welcome learning about all aspects that affect a person’s health and wellbeing, including housing, isolation, access to care, nutrition, warmth, spiritual, psychological, physical and mental wellbeing which includes basic needs of safety and security.”

In the lead up to the event, Vinnies chief executive Dr John Falzon thanked CEOs taking part in the event for their passion and energy for the cause. “We have no excuse for the level of homelessness in a country as wealthy as ours. We need not only your commitment to this event but your passion, your advocacy to address the causes of homelessness and housing stress in prosperous Australia.”

Ward said she hopes the sleepout prompts a shift in people’s notions of what homelessness looks like.

“There are quite a few stereotypes around homelessness, including being mainly males, people carting around a trolley, or teenage runaways, just to name a few.

“Perhaps a lesser known face of homelessness, or group of people affected by homelessness are older women. Even as the factors and issues faced by people who are homeless may differ, it is often women who are the victims of this plight due to domestic and spousal abuse, but older women in particular are underprivileged as they do not have the working history and choice of careers that we do now. This means they do not have superannuation entitlements like males of the same age.”

Ward has helped a few elderly women who have been between accommodations and couldn’t afford hotels. “Sometimes it is needing somewhere to stay for a few weeks or a short period of time. Life circumstances like divorce, death of a spouse or loved one can plummet people into circumstances they never imagined and certainly never planned for.”

She also used this year’s sleepout to bring attention to the fact people experiencing homelessness face the prospect of being vulnerable to sexual assault.

“I have heard of some females agreeing to a one-night stand in order to be sheltered for the night and have access to a shower.

"As a nurse we care for people at their most vulnerable and there are no social barriers or boundaries to these circumstances.”

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