Setting up at the CEO Sleepout held at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday. Photograph: Craig Golding/AAP
A Sydney fundraising event for the homeless has been labelled “dystopian” after it asked CEOs to don virtual reality headsets to “get a glimpse” of life on the streets.
CEO Sleepout, a yearly event where business leaders sleep rough to raise money for charity, released a video on Thursday of fundraisers trying out the new technology for the first time.
Footage showed a row of CEOs sitting in silence with the cumbersome headsets strapped over their faces.
Watch the video on Twitter here.
This year’s sleepout claimed to have collected $5m and raised awareness of the more than 105,000 Australians who are classified as homeless.
In April, the Council to Homeless Persons declared a “disaster” in homelessness funding after the government decided to scrap the National Affordable Housing Agreement in this year’s budget.
The council’s survey found two-thirds of specialist homelessness services did not receive enough funding to meet demand, and turned away 70,000 people last year.
But many on Twitter said the Sleepout’s VR stunt was tone deaf, jarring and “incredibly bad”.
The council told Guardian Australia in April that attention also needed to be drawn to the homelessness rates affecting queer youth, who it says are 250% more likely to experience homelessness.
In 2014, the Bureau of Statistics found 33.7% of people who identified as gay or lesbian experienced homelessness during their lifetime, compared with 13.4% of those who identify as heterosexual.
“Although the common stereotype of someone who is homeless is an older man rough sleeping, the reality is that 44% of homelessness clients are people under 25,” said its manager, Ian Gough.
Prof Paul Flatau, lead author of a report by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, said philanthropic private sector funding should increase, but the sector would always require a high level of federal government funding.
The organisers of the Sydney CEO Sleepout have been contacted for comment.
Last year, a sleepout in Adelaide was gatecrashed by homeless people who told participants they did not understand their plight.
The nationwide event has been running since 2006 in partnership with the St Vincent De Paul Society, and this year involved nearly 1,500 CEOs.