Ballarat Grammar Sleep Out

Posted: 13 July 2021


Dubbed ‘The Kurt Hahn Sleep Out’, every year a group of Ballarat Grammar students brave the elements to learn about homelessness and experience the conditions that those less fortunate face on the street on a nightly basis. Students explore the Kurt Hahn concept of putting themselves in the shoes of others and thinking about homelessness while spending the night in different locations around the school campus.


The Sleep Out usually takes place in Term 3, in the winter month of August. An initial communication goes out to students in late July and parent permission forms are collected in early August before the event takes place later that month. We aim for approximately 50 participants to take part from Years 9-12.

We contact and book a local charity worker who helps with the placement of homeless people into social housing in the local Ballarat area. They participate as a guest speaker, talking to our students about homelessness, its causes and how it affects different members of our community.

Other planning measures involve basic meal preparation and organising staffing. The evening is supervised by Grammar teaching staff. Students sleep in gender specific areas at each location.


The Sleep Out Challenge commences at 6:00pm in the Equipment Gym and kicks off with a local Housing Support Services charity talking about homelessness in Ballarat. This is caused by a combination of individual and structural risk factors, which include housing affordability, family violence and cyclical poverty. Domestic and family violence (DFV) is the most frequent cause of homelessness in Australia, affecting women, young people and children in particular. People experiencing DFV may leave their home and seek insecure or unsuitable alternative accommodation options to escape the violence. A lack of housing options, access to specialist services and public transport in regional or rural Victoria can exacerbate homelessness.

The students have a soup-shelter style meal afterwards, comprising of a cup of tomato soup and a piece of bread.

There is also a basic outdoor cinema, showing a film linked to the theme of homelessness.

Students are required to bring their own bedding and then all bedding items are boxed up the following day to be donated to those in need.  Students are expected to source blankets, camping mats or purchase from local Op Shops to then donate to the people in our community who need them the most.

The challenge usually involves a walk to nearby Stockland Shopping Centre, Wendouree, to purchase essential items, as suggested by our guest speaker. These items will to be donated to community groups to pass on to those sleeping rough in Ballarat. A cash amount of $20 – $30 will be required by each participant for this purpose.

In the spirit of Kurt Hahn’s belief of giving students the opportunity to challenge themselves in a range of environments, enabling them to learn through hands-on experiences the students ‘slept rough’ for the night. Like transient life on the streets, the students had to move locations during the night and resettle with their possessions again.

On the night, when it is time to sleep, another real-life scenario is implemented; that is, broken sleep. Like life on the streets, students may have to move locations during the night and resettle with their possessions in order to sleep.

In the morning, students enjoy a pancake breakfast, and once all bedding and camping mats have been organised for charity, students can be picked up by parents for the rest of their weekend.


Students emerge with greater insights into the confronting realities of homelessness in their local community. They are often shocked by what they learn. They also emerge with a form of lived experience as well. Their night spent in the cold, being interrupted and moved on to several locations and struggling to sleep in discomfort are all thought-provoking reminders of the human hardship that homelessness creates. The aim is to make our students more empathetic about homelessness in their local community, and more likely to assist this cause in the future.

It is a thought-provoking and meaningful community event for our Ballarat Grammar students. We hope this helps to embed a service ethic within our students from privileged backgrounds so they can pay it back to the community.

I love the fact that it is an authentic experience, and whilst students are not sleeping out on the streets, they are getting a taste of what that would be like. This form of experiential learning has stayed with many past participants from Ballarat Grammar, with many of them citing it as one of their most important school experiences beyond the classroom.

Long term

We want our students to graduate with a deep understanding of the world and of people in it. As an active member school of Round Square, our students are supported to take on challenges that demand courage, compassion, imagination, principle and resolution.

In an ongoing climate of uncertainty surrounding international, and even domestic travel, these local Round Square events have become even more important. Provided the event can be run flexibly to accommodate changing Covid-19 protocols, this is a very worthwhile event to run.


Author: Tim Adams, Round Square Co-ordinator, Home Room Leader, Ballarat Grammar School

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