After sparking a national discussion on the homelessness crisis in 2017, Filthy Rich & Homeless returns for a second series, airing over three nights at 8.30pm on Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 August, followed by a live special at 9.30pm on the final night.
Series host Indira Naidoo oversees five high-profile Australians with the potential to effect positive change will swap their privileged lives to discover what life is like for the nation’s homeless in Sydney, the country’s most expensive city.
SBS website The Guide met with Indira to discuss her involvement in the second series of the show.
The Guide: What experiences or learning did you take away from season one that you could apply to making season two?
Indira: In terms of making the show or the issue of homelessness?
The Guide: Let’s talk about both.
Indira: Making the show, I had never done a reality television format before, so that was very different and new for me, in terms of throwing people into a situation where we removed a lot of support - phones, money, etc. So, I felt quite a strong sense of responsibility for their welfare and well-being in a way that you usually would be concerned to do that to the average person.
I found that an interesting emotional process to go through separately to being involved in terms of a host or from the editorial side of the show. That was quite different because I would swing between worrying about them as individuals and then caring about them as protagonists who are going to take us on a journey of awareness and discovery and education about the issue of homelessness. Sometimes I’d be frustrated with why they weren’t getting it. And then other times I’d understand “Gee, you’re sore, you’re hungry, it’s cold, you haven’t slept. I would swing between those two camps.
Whereas this time around, I think I’m a lot more aware that ten days, while it’s really, really tough to be exposed and it’s a very generous action on our participants to put themselves through that, it is still only ten days and most other homeless people are going to hang out there for maybe ten months”. So, there is also a sense of, while it is life-changing for the participants on many levels, they are able to leave that situation and end it to return to their comfortable, safe world. You don’t feel as bad… I didn’t feel it after the first series.
The Guide: It sounds to me that you had a sense of perspective about it - it’s only TV...
Indira: I saw the power of putting average sort-of people through that experience and the effect it had on the wider audience that were exposed to their journey. I saw the power of that, the activation, and the change that it brought about. I was able to sit more comfortably with it as a format. It’s a very serious thing - the participants still put themselves through extraordinary physical and emotional trauma. I’m very grateful because I couldn’t do one night on the streets. There’s no way I could even do one night, so the fact our participants did ten days and nights I just fine extraordinary.
The Guide: Did you feel guilty?
Indira: I wouldn’t say guilt, I’d say responsibility. Extraordinary responsibility for their well-being.
The Guide: What did you learn about the homeless situation from the first season that may have changed your attitude heading into the second season?
Indira: I’ve been working in the homeless communities around Kings Cross for around ten years now. I’ve been an ambassador for the Wayside Chapel for about seven years. I run soup kitchens, built a vegetable rooftop garden and run garden classes on a daily basis. For me, I guess I didn’t learn that much more about the issue of homelessness, because I am weekly at the coalface of that. But I guess it’s like all stories, when you meet individuals you are really impacted by their individual circumstances. So, individual cases of trauma of child neglect, of child abuse, families out on the streets, young children out on their own. Every time you meet an individual with their own personal stories, it’s obviously unique.
Obviously that was informative to go through, because everyone has their own unique story about how they became homeless and how they struggle with the reality of that day-to-day. I learnt a lot.
The Guide: What do you wish more people would understand about the homeless situation?
Indira: I think it’s important to face the problem with compassion, rather than blame. A lot of people who haven’t been in that situation blame people who are homeless for their situation. That is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Secondly, homelessness can happen to any one of us at any time. I don’t think most of us realise how close we are to being homeless. You just have to lose your job, can’t pay your rent or your mortgage payment, and then you are out on the street, especially if you don’t have family that will take you in. This is something that is relevant to everyone, not just the 112,000 people who are homeless every day in Australia. The thing that frustrates me the most is we are such a wealthy nation. We have so much money that we could fix homelessness tomorrow if we decided to, but we choose not to. It’s a matter of thinking as a community that this is our collective responsibility and tackling the problem as a collective. It’s not just politicians, though politicians are an important part of it. But every member of the community needs to play their role.
The Guide: What initially piqued your interest in getting involved in homelessness as an area of charity?
Indira: Where I live in Potts Point. We have a large rough sleeping homeless community here, around Potts Point/Kings Cross. You literally pass bodies along the footpath every day to the supermarket, to the bank, to the grocery store. We are one of those suburbs, unlike other suburbs, where you don’t see the problem right in front of you every day. We do. It’s very hard when you see it right in front of you every day not to be moved and effected by it. It was over a few months of realising ‘this is a serious problem, what can I do to help people in my own community’? I heard about the Wayside, went along, volunteered for a few of their Christmas lunches and soup kitchens, then I was appointed an ambassador for the Wayside, wrote a book about the Wayside and the homeless problem, and then built a garden. It just built and built until it became the backbone of most of the work that I do. Most of my broadcasting, writing work pivots around the issue of homelessness.
The Guide: Your friends and family see you getting involved in the community this way, has it inspired them to do likewise?
Indira: It’s been heartening to see how involved and engaged so many of the people who know me have become through my work, either coming along to our events, supporting my fundraisers, or just listening to me chew off their ear about what they should be doing to do more. Everyone is always volunteering and helping, supporting, donating time. Once you tell people how they can help, everyone wants to help - they just don’t know what to do.
The Guide: Sometimes it is finding motivation to make that first step that’s hardest for people.
Indira: It’s confronting. People don’t know what to do. When you walk up to someone who’s homeless, in rag clothes, disheveled and hasn’t bathed, it can be very confronting and people don’t know ‘do I go up? Are they going to threaten me? Is something going to happen that I won’t be able to handle?” Our shows are important because they explain: Just go up to someone and say hello. Ask them how they are. Ask them what their name is. It doesn’t have to be more than that. You don’t have to give them a house or give them money. Most people just want you to acknowledge that they are human beings and get that lovely warm human interaction from you.
The Guide: What messages have you heard from viewers of that first season and how it has changed their perspective?
Indira: That was the thing that reinforces your belief in human compassion and how wonderful Australians are. People were offering their houses for homeless people to move into that night after our live show went to air. They were offering free board and rent, accommodation, clothes. One of our really famous homeless visitors and friends that we have in Potts Point, Auntie Rosie says someone came out of Woolworths and just gave her a $100 bill. She didn’t even know we had $100 bills in Australian currency. She’d never seen one before. There was extraordinary outpouring of compassion and generosity those first few weeks. But the thing is to keep the momentum going. That’s why the second series is needed and hopefully there will be a third series as well.
The Guide: A few months down the track, do you think the message is still resonating with people?
Indira: That’s what we’re hoping. With this series we definitely want to give them a sense of all the different things that can be done. Having a politician involved for the first time, Alex Greenwich, I think is going to be a wonderful lightning rod for activation and activism. He’s going to have a lot of responsibility on raising the profile among his parliamentary colleagues, in parliament, on the floor of Parliament, with all of the other Parliaments - the National Parliament as well. Our viewers can then get a sense of the different ways - the personal donations, changing the way you vote, calling up your local MP about what you’d like to see, being more engaged in the policy solutions as well as the personal things you can do. We’re hoping this series of the show will give them all those things that they can do and keep the change going. So its not just around the show, but it carries on for months and years afterwards.
Filthy Rich & Homeless airs on SBS over three nights at 8.30pm on Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 August, followed by a live special at 9.30pm on Thursday 16 August.