OAM for Bernie Fehon, founder of Vinnies CEO Sleepout

When Bernie Fehon founded the Vinnies CEO Sleepout in 2006, a handful of businesses took part. 

But in just a few years it was gaining traction and on June 21 at locations around Australia, 1400 CEOs have signed up and $2.7 million has already been donated.

“It’s one of those things, I have lots of ideas and it turns out this was a good one,” the Blaxland financial planner and CEO of Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise, said.

“It’s nice to know that as this grows and has a positive effect on charities working in this space and CEOs, that’s a pretty nice feeling.”

On Monday, Mr Fehon was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia, for service to the community through social welfare programs for his “good idea”. 

“I’m very surprised, it’s not something that you go seeking,” the 54-year-old said. “I’m grateful for the recognition, hopefully it gives me the opportunity to talk to more people about the event.”

Every year high-powered executives give up a few home comforts and sleep outside for the night, to raise funds for homelessness.

Since it’s inception, the event has raised $40 million. “That money raised has had an impact but unfortunately not in eliminating homelessness,” Mr Fehon said.

In 2006 there were 105,000 people homeless in Australia, now there’s 115,000. “The numbers haven’t gone down but our population has grown,” he said.

To eliminate homelessness, housing affordability needs to be addressed, including a commitment from government to provide affordable housing, he said.

While he has never been homeless, Mr Fehon was one of eight raised in Penrith where lots of people were doing it tough in public housing.

“I was very aware of public housing and the work Vinnies does. After church there would be a shed out the back and the old fellas from Vinnies would be moving furniture around. I was aware Vinnies did work to help people that were poor,” Mr Fehon said.

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