Commander Northern Command, Commodore Brenton Smyth was subjected to a relatively cold, hard night on the streets of Darwin earlier this week, sleeping rough as part of the 2015 Vinnies CEO Sleepout.
While temperatures dropped to a balmy 21 degrees in the northern capital, Commodore Smyth admitted the experience would pale in comparison to what other homeless Australians endure on a regular basis.
“One in 17 people in the Northern Territory are homeless,” he said.
“And Darwin has the highest rate of homelessness compared to any other capital city in Australia.”
CDRE Smyth said that sadly, some of those affected by homelessness are former Defence Force personnel.
“There are Veterans and ex-service personnel who have sacrificed a lot during their time in the Defence Force. Unfortunately some fall on hard times when they leave the Services and no longer have access to the support the Services provide,” he said.
“I’m not sure how many ex-service men and women might be homeless, but from my perspective even one is too much.”
The Sleepout event in Darwin featured four guest speakers, including Cameron Hunter, a former Sapper in the New Zealand Defence Force who found himself in France; on the street, cold, wet, and alone at 5:00 am with nothing but ten pounds in his pocket.
“I was promoted to Lance Corporal at the age of 19,” said Cameron, who was the youngest non-commissioned officer at rank in the New Zealand Army at the time.
“Everything was going well, but then I had a disastrous relationship and got a bit frustrated with things.”
“I spent one and a half years in the French Foreign Legion, and then took a job waiting tables. They pulled the fast one on my wages, so I walked out the door. I started drinking like a trooper," he said.
“I ended up on the streets as a number of things happened which didn’t go my way. You do one thing and you get hit from that angle, you do something else and you get hit from another angle. My bad luck was almost uncanny, but it was also showing me something, that I was vulnerable,” he said.
The St Vincent de Paul Society supports people experiencing homelessness through a range of person‑centred and holistic support services including crisis accommodation, domestic violence support, access to budget counselling, life-skills courses and legal advice, as well as assisting in planning for change and their return to independent living.
Funds raised through the Vinnies CEO Sleepout will go towards helping the more than 100,000 Australian men, women and children who are experiencing homelessness to find the warmth, safety and dignity that they desperately deserve.