• Participants of Filthy Rich & Homeless season 3 reflect on the lasting impact of their experience. (SBS)Source: SBS
The five high-profile participants of Filthy Rich & Homeless share how their extraordinary experience of living on the streets for 10 days affected them.
Nicola Heath

3 Jul 2020 - 2:44 PM  UPDATED 3 Jul 2020 - 2:44 PM

Months after filming, the five participants of the third series of Filthy Rich & Homeless have had time to reflect on what they experienced during the show. They share with SBS Voices what they learned during their 10 days on the streets and what they are doing to fight homelessness in Australia.  

Pauline Nguyen

The intergenerational nature of homelessness Pauline Nguyen witnessed during the filming of Filthy Rich & Homeless profoundly affected the Sydney restaurateur. “My heart cried for the youth who had lived this life since they were babies or young children, and that was all they knew of life,” she says.

Nguyen says that spending time with non-profit organisation Dignity changed her view of homelessness, which, like many, she previously associated with rough sleepers even though this group makes up just seven per cent of people who are homeless in Australia. “The bigger picture is that it can happen to any of us,” she says, “especially as a result of COVID-19.”

Now, Nguyen is fired up to fight homelessness. “When I take action, nothing is done by halves,” she says. She is working with Dignity on an ambitious national campaign to end homelessness in Australia and hopes to secure a corporate partner.

“The Dignity model is unlike anything else in the country – they are a smart, considered, compassionate organisation, and most importantly, they get results. Why? Because they empower and equip the homeless with the skills and the ability to make real changes in their lives,” says Nguyen. “Watch this space! It’s going to be big!”

Ellie Gonsalves

Actress and model Ellie Gonsalves says nothing could have prepared her for Filthy Rich & Homeless. When you’re homeless, she says, “you are ignored every single day, you’re alone, go without money, shelter, food, support, communication and as I found out, even things as simple as eye contact and a smile. Basic human contact is something we all need.”

Gonsalves says that filming Filthy Rich & Homeless made her “do a complete 180” on the issue of homelessness. Before the show, she says she was scared to acknowledge rough sleepers she saw on the street in the fear they were dangerous. Most of the homeless people she met, however, were among the “kindest, most generous people” she’s ever encountered.

“This experience has given me an incredible insight into what it’s like to feel deprived of many basic human rights, and I have realised how much of a difference it makes to people…to be treated like human beings.”

She says she has been inspired to do what she can to shine a light on homelessness in Australia. “There are many ways people can help,” she says. “Respect the homeless as individuals. Give them the same courtesy and respect you would give your friends and your family; donate money, clothing or groceries; volunteer with a homeless organisation in your area; advocate for homeless people by helping groups in your community whose policy and initiatives support the goal of ending homelessness.”

Gonsalves raised $10,000 for Eden, her rough sleeping buddy on the show. “I felt this was something I could do immediately to impact one person’s life I came in contact with, so now she can find somewhere safe not just to exist but to thrive.”

“I felt this was something I could do immediately to impact one person’s life I came in contact with, so now she can find somewhere safe not just to exist but to thrive.”

Ciaran Lyons

Comedian Ciaran Lyons thinks differently about homelessness since he appeared on Filthy Rich & Homeless. Rather than seeing “homeless people”, he sees “people experiencing homelessness that need support,” he says. “I see them as people that need our compassion and kindness more than ever.”

Lyons now makes sure he offers a smile, a chat or money to the people he sees sleeping rough. He wishes students learned more about homelessness in Australian schools and plans to use his platform to raise awareness of the issue. In June, he hosted the Taldumande Concert For Homeless, a virtual music festival featuring Lime Cordiale, Ali Barter, Boo Seeka, and Lisa Mitchell, to raise money for Taldumande Youth Services. “I’m also planning to develop various homeless awareness projects in the near future.”

Arron Wood

Appearing on Filthy Rich & Homeless had a profound emotional impact on Arron Wood, the Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne. “From the brutal impact of sleeping rough to the deep emotional connection with Phil, my buddy on the show, the 10 days exhausted me physically, mentally and emotionally,” he says. “It has changed me long-term and given me so much more empathy for people experiencing homelessness.”

Wood says he realised that people experiencing homelessness aren’t them, they are us. “Any of us are only a few bits of bad luck away from losing it all. It hammered home a sense that we’re all vulnerable, and we need to reach out with compassion to support our fellow person. The other thing it changed for me was that nobody should be on the streets – it’s not the right place for anyone. The impacts on mental, physical and emotional health are devastating.”

The experience has spurred Wood into action. He began volunteering at the Salvos Café, which supports around 150 rough sleepers each day, secured $500,000 towards a crisis accommodation project at the Salvos in Bourke Street, and ensured $440,000 in funding would continue to support the Salvos Night Café in the CBD. “I also strongly supported our City of Melbourne Affordable Housing Strategy, which advocates for the state government to implement a mandatory affordable housing target for new development. I’m raising $20,000 for the Salvos at Bourke Street as part of the Red Shield Appeal, and I’ve become a conduit for donated support, including two truckloads of new clothing donated by a long-term trader at the Queen Victoria Market.”

Wood is also part of an assertive outreach program that meets once a fortnight. “We visit every rough sleeper and seek to get them support and accommodation to ultimately get them a pathway out of homelessness,” he says.

Dr Andrew Rochford

Before the filming of Filthy Rich & Homeless, Dr Andrew Rochford didn’t have a specific view on homelessness. “I didn’t judge people for being homeless; I just never put any thought into it.” Now, he says, “I’m better informed; I have a deeper understanding of how it occurs, who it occurs to, why it continues to be a growing problem in this country.”

He now has a firm view on homelessness, and “that view is we shouldn’t tolerate it,” he says. “We’re a country that is so proud of ourselves in so many ways but still thinks it’s ok to let anyone be homeless.”

Rochford hosted the Vinnies CEO Sleepout, which was held as a virtual event in 2020. “It was exciting to see an organisation like that pull together to continue to raise awareness and raise funds [for homelessness],” he says. “I’m more involved in the space – I’m reaching out to those that I know through the program, seeing how they’re going. It’s great to hear their feedback about what support they’re getting in their local communities that has come out of the show.”

You can watch Filthy Rich & Homeless on SBS On Demand.

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