• Filthy Rich and Homeless is back on SBS for a third season. (SBS)Source: SBS
"Your basic humanity is stripped so quickly. It’s just... I never expected this."
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

11 Jun 2020 - 10:57 AM  UPDATED 11 Jun 2020 - 11:00 AM

Since its premiere in 2017, SBS series Filthy Rich & Homeless has sparked national discussion on an issue which is more pertinent now than ever - Australia's homelessness crisis.

According to the last Census, 116,000 Australians have no place to call home, a problem which has been brought into sharper focus then ever by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Filthy Rich & Homeless follows five high-profile Australians who swap their privileged lifestyles for 10 days of homelessness in NSW. In place of their phones, ID and money, they’re given little more than second-hand clothing and a sleeping bag and left to fend for themselves. 

The five high profile participants this season – emergency doctor and businessman Dr. Andrew Rochford, Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne Arron Wood, restauranteur and entrepreneur Pauline Nguyen, comedian and radio presenter Ciaran Lyons and actress and model Ellie Gonsalves – experience different forms of homelessness, from sleeping rough on the streets to living in crisis accommodation and marginal housing, including boarding houses and caravan parks.

Here's how the experience impacted on them:

Dr. Andrew Rochford

An emergency doctor, businessman and well-recognised public figure, Dr. Andrew Rochford had one of the most visible transformations after sleeping rough.

"Yeah, so I have to move on because the concern is that I'm obstructing a door," a bleary-eyed Rochford explained to camera, as a building security guard woke him up and ushered him on.

"It was out of the wind, it was out of the rain," the doctor went on, becoming emotional.

"I just wanna feel safe. I just want to stop feeling anxious."

Rochford, who was sleeping rough in Bankstown, went on to be confronted by the blow his pride had taken, admitting to feeling too ashamed to order breakfast at McDonald's.

"I was actually too embarrassed to order," he admitted.

"Thinking about what it must be like on a permanent basis, to sit in a place like McDonald’s, and not feel like you belong there. Not feel like you belong anywhere. Your basic humanity is stripped so quickly. It’s just... I never expected this."

The much loved TV personality added: "I never expected to not be able to maintain the dignity associated with just being part of the society that I live in."

Arron Wood

Considering for a moment that begging on the street is technically illegal in Victoria, Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne Arron Wood's experience sleeping rough in NSW was always going to be a bit of an eye-opener.

Before beginning the social experiment, Wood admitted that he had a lot to learn on the subject.

"I know stats, I know all these things, but if I ever said I know what homelessness is, I think I'd be a fool," he said.

"What it must be like on a permanent basis, not feel like you belong anywhere."

Wood's understanding of Australia's homelessness crisis grows noticeably throughout the series, as he becomes familiar with the systemic shortcomings faced by one of Australia's most vulnerable populations.

"There's literally someone on nearly every park bench that I'm walking past at the moment," he mused to camera during his first night sleeping rough.

"Honestly, [it] hits home just to think that’s someone’s reality."

Pauline Nguyen

For restauranteur and entrepreneur Pauline Nguyen, the experience of seeing how Australia's rough sleepers live hand-to-mouth was an eye-opening - and physically challenging - one

"I need to take regular breaks from the bag," she admitted after her first night on the street. "It’s f**king up my body, and my shoulders.

"But it is what it is."

While Nguyen, an award-winning restaurateur and self-described ‘spiritual entrepreneur’, found herself grappling with the physical strains of sleeping rough, she insisted that, on a human level, she believed there were ways out of homelessness for those she encountered.

"Do I think that there’s a way out for some of the homeless? I simply don't know, I simply don’t know," she said.

"But on a humanity level, I think a human being is capable of anything if they have the right resources."

Ciaran Lyons

He might be a comedian and radio presenter, but 23-year-old Ciaran Lyons wasn't laughing after toughing it out on the streets of Sydney overnight. 

"I'm not used to being in the public eye while I'm sleeping," Lyons reflected after a rough first night.

"Like I'm used to having my own bed in my own room, having that privacy, where I feel like when you're out here, you know, you're hearing all the cars go past, you're hearing the footsteps, you're hearing the groups of people, you're even hearing the comments of people as they’re walking past.

"So yeah, you're just on public display the whole time."

The comedian admitted he would struggle sleeping rough in the long term, not just physically but psychologically.

"You'd start to think, like, what’s my purpose? What am I doing? You know, are you just ‘being’ each day, you know?", he said.

"Hopefully you've slept a few hours, you wake up, you try and get some free food and a free coffee and you know, maybe that’s why we have a lot of issues with drug and alcohol dependence with, you know, people on the streets, ‘cause what else do you do?

"Like seriously?"

Towards the end of episode one, Ciaran's health begins to wane, with one of the production's nurses being called in after he complained he was "going to get sick".

Dr Catherine Robinson, the show's co-host and homelessness expert, explains that while Ciaran's health struggles are distressing, they're not surprising. This, she says, is largely due to rough sleeping conditions and limited access to fresh water and food.

And while Ciaran got the care he needed to continue on in his journey - many don't.

Ellie Gonsalves

Determined to gain a new perspective, actress and model Ellie Gonsalves ditched the glitz and glam of her everyday life to participate in the third season of Filthy Rich and Homeless.

Gonsalves, who experienced her first night of rough sleeping in NSW's Wollongong, was quick to admit that the experience was impacting her emotionally.

"I feel, like, sad, you know?" she said, looking out at members of the local homeless population, getting ready for bed in their respective setups.

"This is sad," she reiterated. "This is like no way to live, living in a tent. And like, literally like, setting it up every night, taking it down every morning."

A visibly impacted Gonsalves added: "That’s not a life.

"It’s not fair."

Filthy Rich & Homeless premieres over three consecutive nights – June 9, 10 and 11 – on SBS at 8:30pm. The show will be available at SBS On Demand after broadcast, including in subtitled Simplified Chinese and Arabic.

Join the conversation #FilthyRichHomeless

The series was produced and completed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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