Award-winning documentary series Filthy Rich and Homeless returned to Australian television screens this August.
The powerful three-episode series follows the journey of five wealthy, high-profile Australians as they leave their privileged lives to experience what life is really like for Australia’s 116,000 homeless people.
For many viewers, the program treads between ‘poverty porn’ and investigative journalism.
The premise behind the show is simple. The five prosperous Australians are handed a set of second-hand clothes, a laundry bag, and a sleeping bag, before being dropped off in Sydney’s CBD. For 10 days, they are left to entirely fend for themselves in the nation's most expensive and busy city.
The belief that the program is exploitative stunt television, in which affluent celebrities sample homelessness before returning to their normal lives, has been adamantly rebuffed by participant and socialite Skye Leckie.
“Those who say it’s stunt TV are being totally ignorant to the homeless situation out there,” she stated, before claiming the program has brought about positive renewed attention to both the causes and solutions to homelessness. “Calling it stunt TV is an insult to the people that have to be living on the street. Critics should take a long hard look at what they say before they speak.”
Dear @SBS Wouldn't the money you spend on making poverty porn Filthy Rich and Homeless (two series, really?) be better spent on real homeless people rather than following around a bunch of 'celebrities'?— Far South Project (@FarSouthProject) August 15, 2018
Living among the homeless community this season alongside Leckie are actor and broadcaster Cameron Daddo, author and journalist Benjamin Law, singer and model Alli Simpson, and Independent New South Wales MP Alex Greenwich.
Law, who was filmed during the second episode "dumpster-diving" for food, stated he always had "in-built sympathy for folks living homeless," but revealed his experience on the series highlighted just how enormous the scope of homelessness really is.
"Nothing prepared me for the truly infinite ways in which people had become homeless, and how it can really affect anyone - from people who’ve had terrible childhoods of deprivation, to folks who were tertiary educated and really well-off only months before I met them."
Thoroughly enjoying #FilthyRichHomeless what a powerful insight so far— Alex Cunningham (@beigebeige1) August 14, 2018
Extraordinary TV. Confronting how homelessness dehumanises people. #FilthyRichHomeless— Mike Whatley (@MikeWhatleyOz) August 14, 2018
Throughout the season, an emphasis was placed on changing homelessness stereotypes. Despite the long-held cliché of the older, homeless man, the show revealed that increasingly those facing homelessness in Australia are women.
Order of Australia Medal winner Leckie revealed the experience made her acutely aware of how poverty, social exclusion, and physical danger accompany homeless women at a heighted rate.
Indira Naidoo, an ambassador for homeless crisis centre Wayside Chapel and the host of Filthy Rich and Homeless, referred to women as the “hidden homeless”.
“For many women, violence is the reason they are homeless. Over a third of women over the age of 15 have experienced physical, psychological, and/or sexual violence at the hands of a current or former partner,” she stated. “Many are forced out of their homes due to fears for their safety and the safety of their children.”
Since 2011, there has been a 10% increase in homelessness among women. The latest census figures revealed homelessness was particularly rampant among older women. In 2016, the number of older women living with homelessness in Australia reached 6,866, up 5,234 people since 2011.
“We need to do more. We must do more. We need to declare homelessness a state of emergency,” Naidoo stated. “We need to create a national social leasing scheme, similar to defence housing, we should consider converting vacant office blocks into social housing, placing transportable units on vacant land and reforming tenancy laws; replicating successful overseas models where homelessness has all but been eradicated.
“We need to remember that homelessness is solvable.”