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Could you have slept outside last night?

It’s freaking cold.

I’m typing this at 5am wearing ugg boots, a dressing gown and flannel pyjamas. And the heating? Well it’s cranked up so high that if Cher were here her face would melt off.

Welcome to the first day of winter.

The truth is I like the cold weather.  Or maybe I just like the novelty of dusting off my winter clothes.  Hello scarves!  Hats!  Coats!  Boots! Come to Mama!

But as I’m sitting here with my cup of tea all cosy and snug, I cannot imagine how anyone who is homeless survives the winter months. The nights especially. And last night about 100,000 Australians slept under bridges, in cars, bus shelters, in parks and doorways. So how do they get there? How do you end up homeless? It’s not that hard. Mental illness. Drug and alcohol problems. Unemployment. Domestic violence. Long public housing waiting lists. Skyrocketing rents. They’re all factors that can force people – including families with young children – on to the street.

So that’s why this month for our First Wednesday Club I’ve chosen Street Swags – a not-for-profit company who make portable beds specifically designed for homeless Australians.

Street Swags is the brainchild of thirty-two-year-old Jean Madden who is on a one-woman crusade to help our homeless. When Jean and her husband Tim watched a doco about the physical and mental impact of sleeping rough, they felt an urgent need to take action. What they came up with is the Street Swag – a warm, waterproof portable bed. What’s really clever is that it’s designed to look like a carry bag during the day to help preserve the dignity of the homeless and help them avoid being attacked. Jean’s design is so innovative it won a major design award in Denmark a couple of years ago.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Forget swags, lets get homeless people into shelters. Beds. Safe and secure housing.  The number of homeless Australians being turned away from shelters is on the rise. There simply is not enough room at the inn.  While ideally we want to help get everyone off the streets, in the short term we want them to be warm. Not freezing.  Dry.

Today Jean has distributed about 14,000 swags across Australia through the Salvation Army, St Vinnies and Mission Australia. Each swag costs $60 to make – mostly because of the specialised waterproof canvas used. And each swag has essential items like toiletries and a blanket rolled into them.

I’ll give the final word to Jean.

“The street swags are about keeping people alive – long enough for the community to take responsibility for their own.”

Let’s help pay for some more swags. Donate $10 at www.streetswags.org

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