by Marcus Wicken
There are around one in 200 Australians who are homeless and more people sleeping rough in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo than in any other suburb in the country.
In an effort to do something positive about the situation, Kate Sowden came up with a creative annual fundraiser called Hope Month. The initiative harnesses social networks to raise awareness and funds to combat homelessness in Sydney.
The idea is simple, she says. “You invite your friends over for dinner, you pay for the food and they pay for a seat at your table,” she says.
May this year was the second Hope Month and the funds raised exceeded last year’s takings of $12,000 by thousands. But Ms Sowden is far from satisfied yet.
“We’ve not raised the million dollars I’ve been hoping for yet,” she says.
The money raised at Hope Month events goes towards funding a range of homelessness support initiatives including the maintenance and staffing of The Terrace in Darlinghurst, a semi-supported living facility that runs an 18-month program to help formerly homeless participants move back to sheltered life.
“You can imagine that when people have been on the street for 10 to 20 years, which is generally the case for people in The Terrace, they have limited knowledge of how to get a bank account, clean house, go to the shops, and they may have developed a mental illness,” Ms Sowden says.
She says it costs the Australian Government more to have people on the streets than to house them.
“Economically we should solve this problem. We live in a wealthy nation and we should never have homelessness. We have the ability to change it,” Ms Sowden says.
She created Hope Month as much to create awareness of the problem as to raise money to alleviate it. Ms Sowden provides a resources guide for people who put on a Hope Month event that encourages them to discuss homelessness with their guests.
But getting guests to directly engage as opposed to just parting with their money is easier said than done.
At a Hope Month barbecue in Rose Bay’s Lyne Park recently, most guests were largely unaware of the purpose of the event.
“I was told yesterday it was a fundraiser for a good cause and I actually thought it was about kids,” said Martin Weichart.
Adam White was equally open-minded.
“I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t know anything about it until I reviewed the ad on Facebook but I had a look and it seems like a worthy cause,” Mr White said.
But Kate Sowden is not concerned that the success of her idea may rely more on its utility as a social event than the well-informed charity of its participants.
“Why does it matter how you do it? If you’re raising funds and creating awareness then I don’t see how that could be a negative or gimmicky way of helping,” she says.
As Adam White said, “Every Aussie is up for a barbecue and I think most of us have a good heart and want to give as well, so combine the two and I think you’re on a winner.”
Kimberley Byrne, who organised the barbecue, was happy with the $185 raised at the end of the event.
“It’s nice to know that if you just ask for a little help from your friends they’re quite happy to come and help,” she said.
Whether or not people who attend Hope Month events reflect on homelessness as much as Ms Sowden intends, interest in the events is growing. There are over 20 Hope Month events still to occur this year and Ms Sowden hopes to see momentum grow in the coming years.
“I would love to encourage the whole of Sydney to participate in Hope Month. It should be on everyone’s calendar. It’s a Sydney issue, it’s an Australian issue really,” Ms Sowden says.
For more information or to register to host an event, go to http://www.hopemonth.com