Irish Defence Forces veterans risk everything to serve the country’s flag, but it doesn’t always serve them. Despite decades of distinguished service, official support is almost non-existent, leaving hundreds homeless, and leading to a number of deaths. To drive awareness of this neglected group and raise essential funds and support, O.N.E., an independent veterans charity, contravened all official protocols around the treatment of the Irish flag, and turned this symbol of national pride into the universal symbol of homelessness – a sleeping bag.
We launched the campaign by having an influencer known for activism and social commentary Tweet a single image of a homeless veteran in a Sleeping Flag, with the comment “This is Dublin in 2019.” This single provocative image was like a tinderbox. Something that would normally elicit pride in Irish people was used to elicit anger and a sense of shame instead. The following day during morning peak hour, volunteer veterans took to the streets in these specially-created Sleeping Flags outside historically and politically significant landmarks, as O.N.E. claimed responsibility for the campaign, supported by an online appeal film calling for public support. By day’s end it was already a national conversation – earning O.N.E. a public platform far greater than they had ever thought possible.
Sleeping Flags was covered by every national TV, Radio station and newspaper in Ireland. Within 48 hours, O.N.E. had received a 4,560% increase in donations versus the previous year. In addition, Sleeping Flags generated invaluable support from corporate partners and other institutions. Electric Ireland, the country’s largest energy provider, provided O.N.E. with a €10K grant to upgrade lighting in its hostels, while two separate hospitals committed to providing free and ongoing dedicated veteran care programmes, along with a further €25K grant. Free weekly psychologist sessions were also established, while Dublin Bus gave over advertising space on its 1,000+ fleet to O.N.E. Most importantly, the campaign created such an impact that it was raised on the floor of the Irish Parliament, leading to the government donating a new building to O.N.E. along with a €200K grant. This allowed O.N.E. to significantly expand their services and provide more critical care for veterans who need it.