• Unlike us, not every renter in Australia has a family to lean on in times of need and the eventual opportunity to live in an affordable housing. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
Housing may be a human right but right now, there are over 100,000 people without a permanent place to call home in Australia. Dr Catherine Robinson uncovers the 'other' very real and urgent housing crisis.
By
Dr Catherine Robinson

29 May 2017 - 9:42 AM  UPDATED 23 Jun 2017 - 7:09 PM

As a serial renter in Sydney, it’s hard to see past the housing crisis currently gripping Australia. It’s tough to rent with kids when you have no hope of ever buying in the suburb where your eldest child goes to school.

By the time our third child was born, we knew our time in Sydney was up. We eventually left Sydney’s suburbs and moved to regional Australia for a more sustainable life. Now aged 41 and nearly 50 – and after a tense interlude – my partner and I are officially mortgage paying ‘first home-buyers’ who’ve settled in Hobart.

But the truth of the matter is that we were very lucky, relative to many other Australians. Unlike us, not every renter in Australia has a family to lean on in times of need, access to secure employment, and the eventual opportunity to live in an affordably priced, quality home.

In fact, even though housing is a basic human right in Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that over 100,000 people are homeless in Australia.

Unlike us, not every renter in Australia has a family to lean on in times of need, access to secure employment, and the eventual opportunity to live in an affordably priced, quality home.

Filthy Rich and Homeless, a three-part documentary series airing on SBS from June 27, shines a light on this issue and on the lives of the increasingly visible number of Australians who live without a permanent place to call home. Most importantly, the series contributes to contemporary social and political debates by reminding us about that ‘other’ housing crisis in Australia: homelessness.

The series tracks the experiences of five wealthy Australians who volunteer to learn more about homelessness by experiencing it. That is, the five participants set aside home, work and family in order join those without safe, affordable and secure housing. They travel through different contexts of homelessness, meeting those forced to live on the margins along the way.

Viewers are given the opportunity to see and feel the daily reality homelessness, through the eyes of five wealthy participants – naïve about the current context of homelessness in Australia – who become homeless for a short period of time. During this series, homelessness is what viewers are immersed in and where we are left. 

The participants in the series directly experience the results of the various crises that can lead to homelessness. In a housing climate that’s difficult for everyone but the wealthy, it’s the experiences of the wealthy participants which prompt us to think about what might happen to Australians who lack family support, good education or a prospect of likely employment.

The show asks us to consider those who have had to flee domestic violence and who now, remain haunted by abuse or challenged by mental illness. It is by watching the experiences of the wealthy Australians-turned homeless on television that we, the viewers, are encouraged to think: where exactly would we go if we couldn’t go home or to family and friends tonight?

Why this is the show we need to have, now

The documentary marks a move from aspirational television – full of new reveals and house-flipping tips – to inspirational television. It is an experiential immersion – for both the participants and viewers – into pathways through homelessness. It engages us not with colour palettes, vertical gardens, and feature walls but with people – young and old, women and men – who live without access to safe, affordable housing in which it might be possible to survive, or even flourish. 

The series does not aim to capture and analyse key policy and practice solutions for homelessness. It aims to stop us in the tracks of a housing frenzy and help us to better understand what it takes to survive homelessness. 

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Highlighted in the three shows is inequality and suffering but also the resilience of those who will remain homeless outside of this series – the people who the wealthy participants befriend when the cameras are rolling. Through the participants’ experiences, we get access to their raw reflection on the emotional, physical and psychological impacts of homelessness. And through this our understanding of what it is to have a home is deepened, as is our appreciation of why housing is human right that needs upholding in Australia.

The series does not aim to capture and analyse key policy and practice solutions for homelessness. It aims to stop us in the tracks of a housing frenzy and help us to better understanding what it takes to survive homelessness. 

The series taps into an Australian consciousness suddenly more attuned to the centrality of housing to life – to health, to education, to employment, to family, to community. This is a point at which we are best poised to think inclusively about ensuring everyone has equal access to housing in Australia. In particular, this show reminds us of the need to think more carefully about those who struggle for housing because of intergenerational poverty or experiences of trauma, such as domestic violence, family breakdown or abuse. Housing is stressful, homelessness can be debilitating.

It’s not a comfortable three hours of viewing, but the series does present an opportunity for us all to learn about the ‘other’ housing crisis currently happening around Australia.

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The series also encourages us to recognise that not everyone is talking about house prices and land values. Some are having conversations about where a dry bed can be found; where the unsafe parts of the city may be; how to access kids’ clothing; how best to apply for income assistance or employment; where to find a meal and where the best place is to sleep in a car or tent overnight.

The series also encourages us to recognise that not everyone is talking about house prices and land values.

These are not the conversations most often encountered on the front page of national papers. But they are conversations being had by many in our community and happening more than we might think.

Filthy Rich and Homeless brings these conversations into our homes. The series challenges us to rethink our own prejudices as an immediate starting point for more proactively responding to homelessness.

It also begins the process of reconnecting conversations about housing prices to conversations about social care for the vulnerable, about community health and about fundamental human rights. 

Dr Catherine Robinson is a Social Researcher with the Social Action and Research Centre (SARC), Anglicare Tasmania. She is also a co-host and series consultant on 'Filthy Rich and Homeless'. 

If this article has raised issues for you and you would like to talk to someone, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website by clicking here. For information about services from St Vincent De Paul, click here or for services offered by Salvation Army, click here.  


'Filthy Rich and Homeless', a new three-part documentary series, will explore the experience of homelessness when it debuts on SBS on Tuesday 27, Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 June at 8.30pm. Each show will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast.

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