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Social Responsibility

Pfizer and Medtronic leaders put homelessness on the agenda

Health Industry Hub | June 29, 2022 |
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Last week’s Vinnies CEO Sleepout raised $8.7 million to provide vital assistance to the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, and hardship across Australia.

Now in its 17th year, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout attracted support from more than 1,500 leaders from the corporate, government and not-for-profit sectors.

Liz Carnabuci, Medtronic ANZ VP and Managing Director, and Anne Harris, Pfizer ANZ Managing Director accompanied by six other Pfizer leaders* took part in the Sleepout on 23 June 2022.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that over 116,000 Australians are experiencing homelessness. Of these, 60% are under 35, 44% are women and 13% are under 12 years old.

On one of the coldest nights of the year, Ms Carnabuci gave up some of the familiar comforts she said she “takes for granted” and swapped it for a cardboard box and a humble cup of soup. 

She said “After speaking directly with people who are experiencing homelessness or are at the brink of it, and listening to their stories during the event, it opened my eyes and confirmed how powerful a simple conversation can be. Many people have become homeless because they may be escaping family violence or have turned to substance abuse as an outcome of significant trauma. The first step to understanding their story and how one can help support is to just ask them, and this starts with a conversation.”

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Ms Harris said “In a wealthy, developed nation, homelessness is unacceptable. Housing is a human right, yet many Australians do not have access to this basic need. First Nations people are also sadly over-represented in Australia’s homeless population, making up 20% of the total homeless population. Closing the gap on health outcomes, including social determinants of health is a focus for Pfizer.”

Ms Carnabuci added “Unaccompanied teens experience homelessness much differently than adults do. As a mother to two young boys, knowing that young people aged 15-24 make up 21% of the homeless population is both shocking and saddening.  

“Young people, especially Indigenous young people, and those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. A combination of family violence and trauma can result in varying levels of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and trauma, which may lead to homelessness, if not addressed. It’s imperative to introduce mental health and wellbeing programs to our younger generation to stop the spiral into homelessness.”

This year Vinnies’ focus has been about prevention. Ms Harris commented “We heard from a number of people who so generously told their story about how early intervention through Vinnies’ services has kept a roof over their heads and made a significant difference to their own life and that of their family. Through early intervention and ensuring people experiencing disadvantage do not slip into homelessness in the first place, Vinnies and the support it receives from the business community can help vulnerable people avoid unnecessary stressors and misery. This also increases the positive flow on effect to the community, socially and economically.”

Ms Carnabuci noted that it can be difficult to take the first step to help others, but we all have a platform we can use to extend support and be part of the solution. She said “For example, if you’re a business owner, this may be taking time to unpack your recruiting processes to put in place employment programs that benefit those at risk of becoming homeless. You can make an impact in other ways too, whether it be fundraising, donating clothing, or volunteering at a charitable organisation. St Vincent has a list of resources for those who want to get involved.”

Pfizer’s Andrew Thirlwell, one of the leaders who joined Ms Harris on the Vinnies CEO Sleepout, said “We take things like clean drinking water, food, and shelter for granted. This experienced has helped me gain a better understanding of the lived experience of homelessness. Pfizer’s people want to shine a light on the issue of homelessness and ultimately increase contributions to better support our community.”

*Lauren Adler, ANZ Hospital Business Lead, Elise Kelly, ANZ Oncology Lead, Vanessa Craze, Senior Manager, People & Experience, Charl Smit, ANZ Digital Client Partner Lead, Louise Graham, Head of Market Access ANZ and Andrew Thirlwell, Director Policy & Public Affairs, Developed Asia.


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