Compassion is one of the four values at Cornish College, and compassion is what warmed hearts on the evening of Friday 15 June as over 60 students, alumni and staff braved the cold temperatures to sleep outside for Cornish College’s Winter Sleepout. Their dedication to the cause has already raised almost $24,000 in support of Australians experiencing homelessness, a record for the annual school event.

All funds are donated to the charity Backpack Bed for Homeless who support people unable to find shelter. They have an award-winning backpack/swag design (known as a Backpack Bed) that charities can distribute to those awaiting accommodation.

Mr Jarrod Davies, Chaplain at Cornish College and organiser of the Winter Sleepout, said “We are very grateful for the opportunity we have to make a small difference through this community event. Cornish people are generous, and we are ecstatic that our record amount of funds raised will help 240 plus people sleep less rough, safer and with more dignity”.

On the night, 51 students from Years 6 to 12, two former students and ten staff slept outside in cardboard boxes and participated in a program designed to encourage conversation and action; from a campfire on the College island, to night-golf, to structured discussions about homelessness. We welcomed support from two of the school’s student Social Justice leaders, another two alumni, 11 further staff including Cornish Principal Ms Vicki Steer, and Reverend Claire Dawe throughout the evening. The team also reached another record of preparing 850 sandwiches from the food donations, which will be distributed to children who attend school without lunch and others in need by the charity Eat Up Australia.

Each year attendance numbers of the event reach capacity very quickly. Year 6 student Lily registered on the event’s opening day and currently sits as our top fundraiser with over $3,000 raised. She became involved to raise both money and awareness of the issues.

Year 7 student Patrick became involved saying “I think it’s really important to appreciate what we have in our life and to help other people that aren’t as lucky as myself. To spend a night sleeping out in the cold for one night, really makes me understand what it would be like to be homeless and cold. It makes me want to raise as much money as I can”.

There are a great number of students and teachers who return year after year to show their support. Past student Mitchell remains involved knowing that there are too many people sleeping on our streets. “Whilst it can be cold and uncomfortable, the Winter Sleepout is an enjoyable event where students and staff come together to support a great cause. For us, it is just one night but for homeless people this is everyday life.”

It is due to this passion and commitment shown by the Cornish community that we have been awarded ‘School of the Year’ as part of the Backpack Bed for Homeless Australia Day awards multiple times.

“Our students had fun on the night, yet this is combined with a deep inquiry into the issue of homelessness and how we can help going forward. Our staff and students get a tiny taste of what it is like to be cold, hungry and without a home – and it’s our hope they will go on to keep making a difference in this, and other areas in our community” said Mr Davies.

Ms Steer said of the students “our school motto is ‘Make A Difference’ and we are tremendously proud of how quickly these young people put up their hands to be involved. The fact that this event reaches capacity within just a number of days proves how empathetic they are. This is very much in line with the Cornish vision for our students, providing an education to develop citizens who make a positive difference and contribute to a sustainable future.”

Further information:

The rate of homelessness in Australia has increased by almost 14% from 2011 to 2016 according to the 2016 Census of Population and Housing, and approximately 39% of those are young people under 25 years old. This is a crisis, only amplified during these cold winter months.

Backpack Bed for Homeless (formerly known as Swags for Homeless) is a nationally accredited charity in Australia and is winner of 2011 Australian Human Rights award for best Community Organisation; Australia’s highest honour. Founder Tony Clark and his wife Lisa designed the live saving Backpack Bed to give dignity to homeless turned away from shelter.

Whole school effort – Many within the Cornish community contribute to the success of The Winter Sleepout. In the lead up, ELC and primary students decorated the boxes for staff to sleep in, classes discussed issues around homelessness, and families were invited to donate food items such as cheese, butter, vegemite and bread.