HMAS Albatross personnel joined the Nowra community in sending out an SOS on behalf of the homeless when they participated in the inaugural Sleep Out Shoalhaven.
The event was held during Homeless Person’s Week, which aims to raise awareness of homelessness and the people it affects. More than 200 participants spent the night on the lawn of the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, with only sleeping bags, swags, cardboard or blankets for bedding.
Commodore Vince Di Pietro, who camped out in a Toyota spare parts carton, said the recent run of below zero temperatures in the local area highlighted some of the grim realities of everyday existence for the homeless.
“It was just one night sleeping rough for me,” Commodore Di Pietro said, “so I certainly didn’t suffer the way that many people do. It was important to bear in mind that there are people out there who battle the cold and harsh conditions every night of their lives.”
Lieutenant Paula Evans, Senior Nursing Officer at the Albatross Medical Centre agreed that empathy was an important component of the SOS experience.
“I’m a total cold frog, so I wasn’t looking forward to it,” she said, “but I feel that, myself as an individual, and Navy as an organisation, have a duty of care to assist those in less fortunate circumstances without judgement or prejudice. To give from the heart, understanding another's road is the first step.”
Leading Seaman Aisling Speight, Able Seaman Benjamin Clifford and Leading Seaman Jason Griffiths of the Australian Joint Acoustic Analysis Centre (AJAAC) at Albatross agreed that although the accommodation wasn’t worthy of 4 stars, there were some comforts to be found.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Able Seaman Clifford said, “knowing we were all there for the same good cause, all with the same motivation - to help improve the lives of those individuals who are lacking the basic necessities that we take for granted, such as food, clothing, medicine and shelter - and hopefully raising enough funds to make a difference.”
The event raised an estimated $15,000, which will definitely make a difference for three local organisations that provide homelessness services.
Commanding Officer of HMAS Albatross, Captain Simon Bateman said this local focus was important.
“It is estimated that 150 people sleep rough in the Shoalhaven each night and I think that statistic, and the fact that homelessness is a growing problem in the area, would surprise many, as it’s often perceived as being a ‘big city’ problem.”
“It’s just one of many misconceptions about homelessness and I was pleased to see Navy participating in an event that raises awareness as well as funds to assist an often overlooked part of our community,” Captain Bateman said.