In Filthy Rich and Homeless, five wealthy volunteers will get a glimpse of what life is like without a home. Ahead of the series launch, SBS' The Guide spoke with participant Tim Guest about his experience taking part.
A self-made millionaire, 39-year-old Tim was financially retired by his late twenties and now works as a ‘financial educator’. A generous donor working with various charities, Tim’s frustrated more can’t be done for homeless people. But he also believes people have to take responsibility for their own lives.
How positive were you about the outcome of participating? Did you think it would open your eyes when you reached the end of it?
It’s kind of hard to say because I didn’t entirely know what we were doing. I didn’t know what to expect. From what they told me, it was to be a 10-day immersive experience on the issue of homelessness. They wouldn’t tell us anything more than that. But at the same time, I kind of guessed it would be something like what we did do. I thought it would open my eyes to something I’m naive and probably even ignorant about. And at the same time, I knew it would be very tough, but what an opportunity. While I go through what was pretty tough, it’s going to provide an insight for hundreds of thousands of people that they probably wouldn’t have.
How has the experience changed your own day-to-day life?
It’s certainly changed how I interact with homeless people now. Prior to doing the show [I thought I understood] - it might be because we donate 10% of profits to charity as it is, we work quite closely with some organisations that deal with homelessness like Manor Inc. For the last three years we’ve funded the Salvation Army Youth Camp in Western Australia, so we were making a considerable difference as it was.
But in terms of my real life, often now when I see a homeless person, I’ll stop and introduce myself. I’ll find out what their name is. I’ll ask them how their day is going, when was the last time they had a shower, where are they sleeping, are they safe, do they have toiletries. It’s not just a Q&A, but I just take five minutes to find out what’s going on for them and if there is anything I might be able to do that could support them.
The questions you’re asking them, are they questions you would have thought to ask previously?
No. I think that was a big barrier for me. Even if they did speak to a homeless person, there’s the one that we’re probably very familiar with who will ask you for change or a cigarette. The number of times I’ve seen a homeless person and wanted to do something, but haven’t known where to start… now I have a better idea of where to start. It’s crazy how simple it is, but in life often it’s hard to see the forest through the trees.
Even for me, one of the things I didn’t expect was how impactful it is not having a watch or a clock. I’d wake up in the morning and I wouldn’t know what time it is. And that can be hard because you have to be certain places at certain times to get fed.
I used to have a thought in my head that if I was going to help a homeless person that I wouldn’t give money because I’d be concerned about what might spend it on. Now I don’t care. If they want to go and spend it on drugs or alcohol – it’s fucking hard. If they want to have a day where they decide they want to get drunk… I do. There will be times where I’ve been working for a couple of weeks and I decide I’m going to go out to dinner and have a few wines and get a bit pissed. Why shouldn’t they be able to enjoy the same thing. And then, of course, there’s the other side of it. Many of them, from what I saw, take drugs as a way of medicating. Some of them have been molested and sexually abused…domestic violence. Clearly I don’t condone drugs – it’s not healthy and it isn’t going to help. I guess the way it has impacted me is I’ll just give them money. I don’t care what they spend it on. I just hope it helps a bit.
In terms of the logistics of sleeping on the streets, what was the most eye-opening thing you came across?
Physically it was quite difficult. One of the things was you carry all your belongings everywhere. You can’t leave them anywhere and I was marching all over the place. You’d have to go from one support service to another support service. I would wake up in my spot. There was one of those self-cleaning toilets on Bourke Street which was maybe a kilometer away, so I’d have to get up and walk a kilometer just to go to the toilet. Then I’d go to a church where they’d serve breakfast and that was another kilometer or two. And that was before I’d even eaten in the morning. So, it was really tough physically. The physicality of it, for me, wasn’t anywhere near as impactful as getting to know some of the people that I met on the streets, hearing their stories, and how heartbreaking some of those stories are. I was often inspired by their courage, their resilience, their resourcefulness. So many of the people that I met, I would listen to their story and the thought that would pop into my head is ‘how would I be going if I lived the same life’. Truth be told, I probably would have killed myself or I would have been dead a long time ago. For them to be doing as well as they are, for me, was inspiring. That sounds a bit strange, but that’s what it was like for me.
What did your friends and family say when you told them you were doing this?
My partner didn’t want me to go, but is very supportive. She knows what I’m like. She knows I like to push and challenge myself. I particularly love to do it when it makes a difference to other people. She was worried about me, but you can’t really stop me. It was the same with my other friends and family. Supportive, but at the same time there was trepidation about what it would be like and the danger… a lot of people were worried about how dangerous it might be on the streets. Would I be safe? Questions I couldn’t answer. Often I’d tell them “they wouldn’t let us do it if it wasn’t safe”.
You did have a TV crew with you…
Exactly, which sometimes isn’t the best thing.
Put yourselves in the shoes of the homeless. For example, I remember the first morning going to a place in St Kilda to have something to eat. The camera crew were following me and as soon as I turned the corner to walk into the place there were about 10-15 homeless people who saw the camera and got agitated. They don’t want to be on camera. It creates volatility. Many people are dealing with mental health issues. Many people are either drug or alcohol affected. There were people carrying weapons. I imagine it was for protection, but it’s a volatile environment. You throw a camera crew in and it creates a bit of the unknown. There were plenty of times I said to the camera crew to ‘let me go in here on my own or don’t make it obvious that you guys are filming me’.
Filthy Rich and Homeless airs Thursdays at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND.
The entire series is streaming at SBS On Demand: