First it was asylum seekers on Go Back to Where You Came From. Then it was Indigenous Australians on First Contact. Now SBS turns its cameras to the homeless in Filthy Rich and Homeless.
All three are immersive television, in which participants walk-a-mile in the shoes of those they are seeking to understand, for our education and entertainment.
Based on a UK format and produced by Blackfella Films (First Contact, DNA Nation, Deep Water: The Real Story), this is a form of storytelling SBS has come to own with considerable success (I’ll skip the contentious Living with the Enemy).
Five volunteers, all from privileged backgrounds, agree to undertake 10 days and nights on the streets of Melbourne. Deprived of money, phones, identification, they are given second hand clothing, a sleeping bag and nothing else. A big ask, regardless of whether they are accompanied by camera crews or not.
The five are self-made millionaire Tim Guest; daughter of boxing champion Jeff, Kayla Fenech; beauty entrepreneur Jellaine Dee; pub baron Stu Laundy; and model and Sydney socialite Christian Wilkins -who is also the son of Nine’s Richard Wilkins.
In a Newport warehouse host Indira Naidoo and homelessness expert Dr Catherine Robinson warn them this will not be easy. None are Melburnians, so their knowledge of the city is limited, and this appears to have been filmed during winter.
A van drops them off, one by one, at city locations: St. Kilda, Richmond, Fitzroy, Alexandra Gardens, & the Queen Vic markets. Abandoned on the streets as rain begins to fall, this social experiment gets very real, very fast. While most look for somewhere quiet to avoid the elements, one makes his way to a homeless shelter.
“I don’t know what to do. I’m just emotional because I’ve never not had a bed to go to. it’s just hit me that this is it for 10 days,” says Jellaine Dee.
The statistics are grim. There are 100,000 Australians who are homeless, 40% of them under the age of 25, and a third of them battling mental illness.
The first night is hard going. Christian Wilkins lucks out begging, and flunks out at busking, before making a reverse-call home on a public phone and crying “Mummy!” Yikes.
Kayla Fenech, who acknowledges that her mother does everything for her from making her dinner to making her bed, can’t bring herself to beg for money, but befriends another homeless man, whilst Tim Guest fights back tears after someone gives him a food wrap.
“It’s the beautiful human spirit that makes me emotional,” he will say.
A sheet of cardboard can quickly become your new best friend.
“It’s quite valuable… I don’t just want to leave it there. Is there somewhere I can stash it?” another ponders.
Other issues surround safety, hygiene, loneliness and the sheer boredom of endless days with no sense of time.
But they all experience the “invisibility” of being homeless on the streets, where too many passers-by ignore their plight. It’s a revealing, confronting experience for all 5 and for us as viewers. How many times have we ignored the person on the street too?
Narrated by Colin Friels, the series will also see the 5 partner-up with another homeless person and spend time in crisis accommodation. Unlike Go Back and First Conflict, Filthy Rich and Homeless avoids group conflict as its focus is fundamentally about surviving the next 24 hours. But the lessons experienced by the participants are revelations for us all.
After watching this you will find it hard to ignore the next homeless person you pass -I couldn’t- with such small gestures making a big difference to those who need it most.
Filthy Rich and Homeless airs 8:30pm Tuesday – Thursday,
A special live studio program hosted by Indira Naidoo and Tom Ballard will air directly after episode three.