By Tony Moore
Brisbane power couple Trevor and Judith St Baker have put their money where their mouth is to make the largest single private donation to the help the homeless in Queensland.
They have on Sunday donated $750,000 to St Vincent de Paul’s campaign to help end homelessness.
Trevor St Baker is the founder of ERM Power, now one of Australia’s largest power production companies.
The company’s current managing director Jon Stretch regularly “sleeps out” in midwinter for the Vinnies CEO sleep-out to raise awareness of the problems of homelessness.
“Judith and I were drawn to this cause after Jon Stretch, CEO of the company I founded, ERM Power, made a passionate plea for corporate donors,” Mr St Baker said.
ERM Power runs Oakey Power Station, Dalby’s Braemar gas-fired power plants, plus the Neerabup power station in Western Australia and Uranquinty power plant in New South Wales.
However, even with all that power, Trevor St Baker was refused permission by his wife Judith to sleep out overnight in the annual St Vincent de Paul chief executive officer’s “sleep out”.
Judith St Baker said “no”, convinced a night overnight on the freezing cold concrete would harm Trevor’s health and “banned him from sleeping rough.”
“I guess it’s because I’m nearly 80,” Mr St Baker said on Sunday.
“However the chief executive officers sleeping out really brings public attention to this; it’s really fantastic,” he said.
Instead, Judith St Baker decided to donate $150,000 per year for the next five years – a total of $750,000 – to provide resources to homeless people in Queensland.
Judith St Baker said she was shocked to learn recently that the fastest-growing demographic for the homeless was women over 60 years of age.
“This frightening statistic is part of why I was so motivated to support Vinnies,” Ms St Baker said.
“It is unacceptable that anyone must sleep rough, let alone women who are left bereft by family tragedy,” she said.
“With the official sleep-out only a few weeks away, I am making this donation to challenge other corporate sponsors to dig deep and contribute as much as they can.”
Mr St Baker said learning it was impacting older women was a major motivator in their decision to donate to the St Vincent de Paul anti-homelessness cause.
“So we decided we could really make a real difference, without diverting attention away from the sleep-out,” he said.
“If she could fund me not to sleep out, she was willing to put in three-quarters of a million dollars over five years.”
The couple say they may be able to encourage other corporate Australians make donations without having to sleep out.
“We might be able to bring some attention to this growing problem in Australia.”
Sharon Shearsmith , the chief executive of Vinnies Housing, said she believed the St Bakers’ contribution was the largest personal donation in the history of the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.
“Providing safe housing for disadvantaged Queenslanders is a key focus for Vinnies as we deal with an ever-increasing demand in people seeking our help, and we are grateful for their support.”
Micah Housing says there are about 200 people “sleeping rough” within three kilometres of Brisbane’s CBD with more at Redcliffe, Sandgate, Ipswich and on the Gold Coast.
The annual Vinnies’ CEO Sleepout will take place at Brisbane Powerhouse on Thursday, June 21.
Vinnies are hoping to raise more than $6 million nationwide from this year’s efforts.