One cold night isn't a lot but it can make a whole lot of difference

More than 116,000 people are homeless on any given night in Australia and, inevitably, COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenge of secure shelter. We have seen family stress manifest negatively for women and their children in particular. 

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During the pandemic there was unprecedented intervention from the government with strategies including unparalleled investment in emergency and temporary accommodation for the homeless population. There were also a range of short-term initiatives to help people at risk of homelessness remain housed such as moratoriums on evictions and rent increases, and income support such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper.

“We tend to assume the problem of homelessness is visible to us through the many people we pass on the way to work or sleeping rough in our neighbourhoods. But this is only a small fraction of the thousands of people struggling with homelessness in Australia.”

All of this helped keep people housed throughout winter - and reduced the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless. Much of this short-term support is now falling away as so many of us otherwise have the luxury of getting back to normal.

I can’t help thinking, we are Australia, we can do better than seeing anyone sleeping on our streets.

Not always what you think

We tend to assume the problem of homelessness is visible to us through the many people we pass on the way to work or sleeping rough in our neighbourhoods. But this is only a small fraction of the thousands of people struggling with homelessness in Australia.

The more significant part of the homelessness problem is far less visible – it’s individuals and families sleeping in cars, on sofas, and in informal, transitory arrangements such as ‘couch surfing’. In any one night, more than an estimated 100,000 people are living in improvised accommodation, overcrowded dwellings, boarding houses, hostels, caravans or sleeping rough.

The experience of homelessness is varied and it impacts people of all ages and backgrounds.



In a post-COVID world, it’s important we don’t let these numbers rise as the additional support provided in 2020 falls away.

Later this month, I will join my colleagues Gerard Florian, Michael Wake, Jason Batson and others as well as other leaders in business, community and government and sleep out to raise awareness and bring home the realities of homelessness in Australia. It does not, of course, capture the reality of the enduring experience of the homeless but we can help raise the profile and raise funds.

The Vinnies CEO Sleepout is a virtual event again this year in Victoria due to COVID-19 restrictions so rather than sleeping out collectively in the city, we’ll be in cars, yards and other places - which interestingly more accurately mirrors the homelessness situation in Australia.

“As winter arrives in Australia, our thoughts shift to those who won’t have a warm bed because they are homeless,” says Gerard Florian, Group Executive Technology at ANZ.

This month, Gerard is also sleeping rough for a night to help break the cycle of homelessness by raising funds for those in need and raising awareness of a growing crisis.

“I learnt a lot about this crisis in my first sleep out,” he says. “I met a mother who found herself without suitable shelter for herself and her young family. I heard stories from men and women – some with young kids, others grandparents – all of whom faced the real prospect of being ‘under the stars’ – but not by choice.”

Gerard says this is one of the myths busted about homelessness through his CEO Sleepout experience last year. “When questioned about choice, the anguish in the voice of the mother we spoke with was heartbreaking. ‘Why would anyone really choose this she said?’”


Show your support for the ANZ team participating in the CEO Sleepout.

When you sponsor a CEO or team, you’re helping Vinnies provide much-needed support to people all around Australia. Your donation directly assists people experiencing homelessness and people at risk of homelessness, by:

  • funding new initiatives;
  • ensuring existing homeless services, such as food vans and emergency support, continue; and
  • expanding the reach of existing programs to ensure every Australian can access accommodation, meals and emergency assistance when they need it.


Katherine Bray is Managing Director Retail Banking, Australia Retail and Commercial at ANZ


The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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