Filthy Rich & Homeless

A couple of months ago I came across the hashtag ‘#filthyrichhomeless‘ on Twitter.  I cannot quite recall the specifics of the tweet that introduced me to this hashtag, but the tweet was, in my opinion, one of those A-star retorts to a piece ‘lamenting’ a particular celebrity’s struggle to find the right kind of mansion in Sydney having just recently sold their other property…for millions.

Judging by the number of likes, comments and retweets this fiery and sarcastic tweet had garnered, I suspected there was an underlying story I was not all too familiar with. So, I decided to click a little further to get myself acquainted with what the conversation around this hashtag was about. Soon enough I was swimming in #filthyrichhomeless posts and eventually I discovered the origins of the hashtag – an SBS Documentary called Filthy Rich and Homeless.

The Filthy Rich and Homeless show gets high profile Australians to swap their life of privilege for 10 days of homelessness. The rich get to experience what it is like to be homeless in Australia – no cash, no IDs, no home and whatever other luxuries they are accustomed to (no they don’t get food breaks either). They also get to experience rough sleeping and the homelessness service system – living in boarding houses and crisis accommodation.

After watching the first 10 minutes of season one I was hooked. The best part of it is my viewing was guilt free because the show is relevant to my research. It is not everyday such a luxury finds its way into my lap, so for once I could indulge in some worthy screen time. I tried to pace myself but as you may know, finding a good show online can only mean one thing… you will be done with it in no time!

There were many realisations that hit while watching the show.  The first is that some homeless people actually have jobs, but they are earning such low incomes which makes it difficult for them to afford rent particularly in the metro areas where affordable housing options tend to be few.

Many low-income earners face higher levels of rental stress meaning that their rent makes up a large part of their spending i.e. 30% or more of their spending goes to rent. An emergency such as falling ill for a couple weeks without financial support can mean the difference between having a roof above your head and becoming homeless if you do not have a network that can assist you.

While the realisations were many, two key ones stand out for me and they are that:

  1. anyone can become homeless, and;
  2. most homeless people do their best to find any way they can to make ends meet.

I think Benjamin Law (one of the participants in season 2) perfectly summed my realisations when he said:

“we are predisposed to thinking of people with problems as a problem. If we don’t actually see them as people, as potential family members, friends or relatives experiencing this, [we fail to realise] that [this] just robs them of every shred of humanity and we just reduce them [homeless people] into abstract problems which in itself is a problem”.

Now, if this is the first time you are reading any of my posts I’d like to make it known that I tend to make many confessions in my writing, so brace yourself. As I watched this show I realised how ignorant I have been to a number of things. More importantly I grew uncomfortable when I realised just how many preconceived ideas I have about some people who experience homelessness. It was confronting to realise this and there is a part of me that remains agitated by some of these realisations (I’m still trying to figure out why).

I would highly recommend Filthy Rich and Homeless. Hopefully the episodes are still available on the SBS site. From what I have gathered, the show has had a mixed reception. Some have called it ‘poverty porn’ meaning they see it as an exploitation of the homeless and their misfortunes, while others see this as a great approach to raising awareness about homelessness.

‘All of me’ thinks it is a great documentary!! It unmasks aspects of homelessness one could never ever learn about by simply reading and hearing about from experts. There is something about someone’s lived experience (in this case the rich and homeless) that cuts through the sensationalism and politics often associated with such wicked problems.

Above all, I think it offers a great reminder of the ‘big’ gestures we take for granted in our interactions or lack thereof with the homeless. These gestures could be something as simple as offering a smile or ‘how’s your day going’ to those doing it rough on the streets and those who mask their struggles well but are caught up in the system.


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