Five high- profile Aussies sleep rough in the second series of Filthy Rich and Homeless
For his first night of sleeping rough, writer and journalist Benjamin Law was starving.
He was left on his own to fend for himself, thinking of ways to survive without any money while sleeping on the streets in the heart of the city.
“I knew in the back of my mind that a lot of grocery stores throw out excess food that’s perfectly good to eat, so I went dumpster diving,” Law said.
“There’s footage of me literally eating out of the bin.”
Luckily for Law, this was all for TV show Filthy Rich and
Homeless, but for 10 days he got to experience what it feels like to sleep rough in the second season of this conversationstarting TV show.
In this new season, Law, actor Cameron Daddo, socialite Skye Leckie, activist Alex Greenwich and singer Alli Simpson ditched their comfortable lives to live on the streets of Sydney for 10 days and experience what it’s like to be homeless first- hand.
“The first season was done in the Melbourne cold and this season they did it in the Sydney heat,” Law said.
“They’re two very different experiences. I think I prefer heat to cold but then the heat brings up its own specific problems.”
For Law, the hot conditions posed a particular predicament.
“Because of the heat, I was basically being poached alive in my sleeping bag,” he said. “But if I got out of the sleeping bag I was attacked by mosquitos. So I basically didn’t get any sleep for those few nights. And of course you’re waking up with a sore back because you’re sleeping on cement or grass.”
Before he even got to that stage, Law was basically stripped and left with nothing at the beginning of the experiment.
“I started to get nervous on the first day of filming when they took away all the possessions that you brought,” he said. “I had packed camping supplies, but they take
Law: “If you encounter someone on the streets who’s homeless or rough sleeping, there’s this assumption that they know what they’re doing and where to get stuff but that’s not necessarily true.”
everything away including your clothes and your underwear. You wear op shop- issued underwear and clothes. They give you one spare change of clothes, a sleeping bag and a bag to put it all in. They don’t give you water and food so I was already hungry and thirsty by the time I was sent out into the street.”
It was a jolt for Law, a harsh reminder that he had to fend for himself, but something he appreciated was necessary to understand what it is truly like to be homeless.
“That was really important for us to experience that shock because if we were eased into the experience, that wouldn’t have reflected the experience that many people who have encountered homelessness go through,” he said.
After a few nights fending for himself, Law was then given some guidance by somebody with experience living on the streets.
“For the first couple of days we were by ourselves and for the next phase we were paired with a buddy,” he said.
For Law, that experience was invaluable not just for his own survival but also for gaining insight into the overall situation for homeless people.
“I got an incredible man called Lindsay who had just scored government accommodation, which I then found out is really difficult to do,” he said.
“The waiting lists are so long that I met people who had been waiting for decades for government housing. He showed me the safe places to sleep. We spent one night on a cricket ground. He introduced me to a place that was away from other rough sleepers because that can also be a difficult environment for getting stuff stolen and things like that.
“So when he needed time by himself he basically forged a space under storm water drains and tunnels – this kind of open sewer network – and I really felt like I was going into the bowels of the Earth by following him there. It was incredible what he had done by himself to keep safe mentally and physically.”
Law realised that for so many people, the experience of living on the streets was as alien to them as it was to him for the first few nights.
“If you encounter someone on the streets who’s homeless or rough sleeping, there’s this assumption that they know what they’re doing and where to get stuff but that’s not necessarily true,” he said.
“So now I talk more to people who are on the street or rough sleeping. A lot of them have only started their experience of homelessness so they don’t know where crisis accommodation centres are, or they don’t know that crisis accommodation exists. They don’t know where there are showers or places to do their laundry.
“Now I know to stop and talk to people and ask ‘ Are you OK? What services do you need? I’ve got a phone in my pocket so we can call people or I can tell you when the showers are open’.”
Law wasn’t blind to the homeless people who lived around him in the city and he generously gave people money, but after taking part in this show he figured out there were more practical ways of engaging and helping people.
“I went into this experience anticipating why there were reasons why people experience homelessness,” he said.
“I understand there are myriad factors that lead to homelessness but I took away from this that there are things that we can do personally to help homelessness.
“I can help someone find crisis accommodation but there aren’t enough beds because there isn’t enough government investment, and they’re on the list for government housing.
“So there are personal things we can do but there are much bigger conversations we need to be having with people in power. It’s a structural issue and we need to lobby and change government.”
Filthy Rich and Homeless, concludes at 8.30pm tonight. The three- part series is available on SBS On Demand
Street life: Writer and journalist Benjamin Law.