Mean streets

Five high- pro­file Aussies sleep rough in the sec­ond se­ries of Filthy Rich and Home­less

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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.

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