A lived experience reflection on “Filthy Rich and Homeless”

By Akemi, member of Launch Housing’s Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG)

Ellie Gonsalves, Ciaran Lyons, Pauline Nguyen, Dr Andrew Rochford and Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood are to be commended for taking part in this year’s “Filthy Rich and Homeless” TV show, an experiment where five high profile Australians are given a ten day glimpse of some of what homeless people go through.

And while ten days doesn’t represent a long time frame, and necessarily misses a great deal of experience because of that, they make sure throughout the episode to stress that the time frame puts a limit on just how deep we can go. That’s just the frame work for the show.

Blackfella Films has walked a fine line well, because it’s our stories that bring us together. Our stories tell each other of things and worlds we’ve not experienced from the point of view of another. One of the tricks they have pulled off with grace is the story telling.

Good story telling builds empathy. Good story telling connects us to each other and through this show they focused on the human experience. When it comes down to it, isn’t that what matters?

I think this show was an extraordinary tool for sharing lived experience insights into homelessness, and so the series becomes an emotional experience that we can all relate to. And while ten days may not reveal the full horrors of homelessness, I think its payoff is the stories of not just the homeless, but the stories untold that the viewer is now primed to hear.

It was difficult watching Ellie get put in a boarding house with ten men, and the terror she felt. And she didn’t have to say what she was afraid of. We all knew precisely what she was afraid of, and it gave a visceral shudder.

That part of the story remains thankfully unrealised, but if you saw the footage, you would feel yourself fill with terror at this future, one that if you are a woman on the streets, is all but inevitable. I believe it was Arron who realised early in the piece why people can sometimes self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. This epiphany was the product of this TV immersive experience. I believe that understanding evolved further when he had get his accommodation in the most dehumanising way (peeing in a cup) and realising how things that could make your day bearable could be the things that make your life a lot worse.

To have someone like the Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne motivated enough to go through this exceedingly unpleasant experience fills me with hope for the future of the homeless in Melbourne.

Sure, it doesn’t present the solutions to homelessness, but it does raise awareness, and that’s the first step. There were a great many things they simply didn’t have time to explore in the series. So much of the show doesn’t reflect my experience.

But it doesn’t have to.

The biggest thing we need, and something “Filthy Rich and Homeless” has achieved over all three seasons is for people to hear people’s stories and for that moment while their words ring, have them walk in the shoes of another.

It doesn’t reflect my experience, but it gives me an opportunity to be part of the conversation when it comes up. It gives examples of what it is to actively listen to a person, it shows how people feel when you do connect with them when they’re homeless.