More than a trending cause – ARIA rallies behind Australia’s homeless
Tonight, sleeping on cardboard sheets and cold concrete, braced against the bite of icy wind and rain, thousands of men and women around the country will be sleeping rough.
Hundreds of these will be dressed in icebreakers, Gortex jackets and extra pairs of socks, possibly watching Australia whoop Denmark in the World Cup.
For the past 13 years, Australia’s top business leaders have taken part in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout to raise money in support of the 38,000 homeless around Australia – 8,200 of which are currently living on the streets.
The annual sleepout, held on one of the longest, coldest nights of the year in Australia’s biggest cities, aims to raise money and awareness by giving the country’s leaders first-hand experience of homelessness.
Of the 1,484 executives participating in tonight’s events, one is from ARIA.
On Tuesday afternoon, CEO Dan Rosen sat cupping a hot cup of chai tea in a cozy Surry Hills cafe, slowly drying after the quick walk over from ARIA’s HQ.
“What’s the weather going to be like on Thursday?” he asked the Vinnies PR sitting with us, who confirms that yes, it will be cold, and yes, they will have a sheltered area in case it rains.
Swapping suits for sleeping rough, he will be one of 330 CEOs schlepping it on a single piece of cardboard (“you’ll get two if you’re lucky!”) on the freezing ground of Sydney’s White Bay cruise terminal.
“I don’t want to overstate the difficulty of sleeping outside [for the event] because the thing is, you know you can get up in the morning and go have a hot shower, and there’s all these A-type personalities, and everyone gets up at like 5 o’clock and goes straight to the gym, probably,” Rosen jokes.
“I was with my daughter this morning – she’s two – and we’re looking at the rain and I was saying we’re lucky that we got to be inside.
“When she throws a tantrum, I always sing her the song, ‘Her life’s so hard’ – that’s such a tough life, that you can’t watch Wheels On The Bus.
“We do have to remind ourselves that we’re privileged.”
Rosen is excited at the prospect of giving back to “something outside of the industry”, while acknowledging that this is an issue which affects our own.
With the financial uncertainty of the gig economy, the instability of freelancing and cut-throat competition for the small pool of full-time jobs, combined with the high cost of living in metropolitan areas, many music workers struggle to support themselves.
“Music is a great communicator… I think the industry has always taken a really strong stance on a lot of important issues,” he said.
“It’s important for all the industry to take a stand and to help raise awareness, doing our small part.”
Rosen says that he’s been fundraising for the sleepout within his personal circle and at ARIA, overreaching his target and raising around $8,500.
“It’s important for our staff to know that they’re working in a place where people care about things beyond themselves and care about things beyond just the industry.”
“The music industry is an industry that probably does, not gonna say more than others, but a lot,” he mused.
“You get caught up in the latest trending cause, but this is an issue that’s been around for a long time and it’s not going away. It impacts not people on the other side of the globe, but people right here in your community.”
Rosen is excited at the prospect of learning more about the issue tonight from the multiple speakers who will share their stories of homelessness.
Following on from the feedback of last’s year’s event, where CEOs wore VR headsets to give them a first-hand experience, this year will see attendees paired with Vinnies’ clients for a more humanised and personal learning experience, with the opportunity to ask questions and hear stories.
“It’s a reminder again of how in privilege you are as a person,” Rosen says. “We often get caught up in ourselves, thinking that we get somewhere because of our talent and our hard work.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t want to be driven for success and try and do the best we can in our lives, but also to recognise that part of being in a community is to give back to the community.”
He humbly acknowledges that “I’m very fortunate… [I come from] good circumstances and it’s important to remind yourself of the fact that there are people less fortunate… often through no fault of their own.”
He remembers his first event in 2014, saying that he experienced a powerful shift in perspective.
“When you hear their stories, it’s really confronting and very powerful and makes you quite emotional to hear how they fell into that world. But also their desire to get back on their feet, and the help that people and other organisations give them.
“If these charity organisations didn’t exist, their situation would be so much worse.”
Vinnies reports that housing costs are arguably the single biggest driver of disadvantage and homelessness in Australia.
According to the national property report by CoreLogic, the median house price in Sydney is $880,743; Melbourne, $723,334; and Canberra, $588,616 as of February 2018.
The data collected by rent.com.au shows rental prices for apartments sitting at $540pw in Sydney; $420pw in Melbourne and $430pw in Canberra.
Comparatively, the New Zealand Music Foundation found that on average, musicians are earning below minimum wage for a working week of up to 48 hours.
“We get to work in something that we’re passionate about and that makes a difference,” emphasises Rosen.
“It is very easy to become blinkered and just focus on your world and what’s important to you and your own success or your own life, because we’re all very busy people and we get caught up in it. But life’s not getting any slower.”
He jokes that while there’s a lot of big egos attending the event, they redirect that energy in a positive way.
“A lot of these people are still really competitive… fighting over who got the pillow or who was the highest fundraiser.
The event captures their competitive spirit and puts it to good use.
“A lot of these people come from organisations that can tap into not just thousands of employees, but thousands of customers and get their customers aware and involved. That’s a wonderful way to use their position to spread the word.”