On a Friday evening at the end of November, I was honoured to be part of something very special – a team of 16 of our Salesforce family laced up our runners and spent Friday evening walking from Parramatta to Kings Cross to raise funds for the Wayside Chapel.
It wasn’t an average Friday night for any of us, but the distance we walked – 28km – is the average distance a homeless person in Sydney walks each week seeking a safe space to sleep.
Each night in NSW, more than 36,000 people have no home to go to, and this is one of the clearest signs of inequality in our society.
Not too long ago, a lot of people took the view that homelessness is a choice. And that's a really unfortunate view – homelessness is both a sign of the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and a failure to adequately treat people who are suffering from major injuries, particularly head traumas, or physical or mental illnesses. Along the walk, I spoke with the Wayside Chapel’s CEO Jon Owen about this growing disparity and the increasing rates of homelessness not just in Australia but everywhere in the world.
Homelessness isn’t a choice, it’s a failure of a social safety net that was set up as an aside to the existing form of capitalism. An effect of housing costs that just continue to go up while minimum wages continue to stagnate, so it becomes harder and harder for even working people to be able to afford a house or proper care.
So you have people who have jobs, have families and have a choice: to pay rent or pay for food. Basically anyone can become homeless nowadays – it doesn't take much to get into a spiral from that choice between rent and food. And next thing you know, someone who once was an educated professional with a family home is now living on the street with their kids.
I don't believe anyone chooses that.
I do believe though that businesses can be powerful platforms for social change and that it’s our responsibility to pursue equality for all. We know the impact of a business that puts purpose alongside profit can have – our co-CEO Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne recently committed $30 million to the University of California, San Francisco’s Centre for Vulnerable Populations, which will fund a five-year research program to understand the causes of homelessness and identify evidence-backed solutions.
Locally, homelessness is undeniably a growing issue; unfortunately, government and the current form of capitalism are not going to address it. Jon Owen and I spoke about collaboration between organisations like Wayside and businesses that can support their work, showcasing how collaboration from organisations and communities is the only thing that's going to solve that problem.
No one should have to live on the street – that's why we came on board as sponsors of the event, why we walked, and why we raised funds in support of the Wayside Chapel alongside NRMA Insurance and PWC.
The more awareness we can help bring to this, the more organisations that collaborate on these issues, the greater the impact and the faster this issue can be solved. And that is a big open goal of what Wayside is trying to do. It's trying to amplify how we solve these problems.
Wayside has been a beacon of hope in Sydney since the ’60s – it’s a small organisation trying to make a big difference for the homeless population here in Sydney and is doing a lot of really interesting stuff. Last year, it had 100 people doing this walk, and this year more than 400.
Among those walkers were people who have previously been homeless, and have been helped by Wayside. One man I met, Josh Macey, had been a visitor at Wayside for more than five years. He’d already done his walking while he lived on the streets, but donned his walking shoes, joined the community and raised more than $13,000 for Wayside. This – seeing people who Wayside has supported and who have changed their own lives with that support, then giving back to help others do the same – is a testament to the effective and critical work of the organisation.
Collectively we've raised more than $333,000 from this event and the donations are still coming in. This money will go towards thousands of cups of coffee, hot showers and clean clothing, and essential clinics, programs and activities that empower people in need, and help to create moments of connection, community and transformation.
Every $250 raised means 100 people receive a warm welcome at the Wayside Chapel, including a hot coffee and a meal.
With $500, the Wayside Chapel provides 153 people with access to its on-site Centrelink clinic to help them receive government support.
$750 provides hot showers, toiletries and a change of clothes for 120 people.
With $1000 raised, Wayside Chapel can run a breakfast and nutrition program for 100 participants, teaching cooking skills and raising awareness of healthy nutrition.
I’m incredibly grateful to Wayside for welcoming our collaboration, and to our community – staff, customers and partners – for supporting this cause by walking, volunteering at rest stops and raising funds.
Fundraising will be open until Friday 13 December, so you can still donate to help the Wayside Chapel support those experiencing homelessness.
On Christmas Day, more than 35,000 people in NSW will be homeless, including 3,963 children under the age of 12. More than 1,000 men, women and children will attend the Wayside Chapel’s free community lunch to enjoy a free meal (with all the trimmings!) surrounded by a loving community. Head over to the Wayside Chapel to donate a plate.