Filthy Rich and Homeless: Making the invisible...visible

June 23, 2017

Taking it to the streets 


Self-made millionaire Tim Guest from Perth spent 10 days and 10 cold winter nights with four other ‘privileged’ Australians living amongst Melbourne’s homeless community for a SBS TV social experiment. They were expected to survive with the clothes on their back and a few basic provisions, but with no money, no ID, no mobile phone and very little knowledge of the city that they had been dropped into.

Tim breaks down as he painfully remembers some of the people he connected with on the streets of Melbourne last year. “These are people who have lived life very tough. They’ve suffered domestic violence, sexual abuse as children—you name it.”

As a young man who previously challenged himself to climb mountains and take on amateur boxing matches for charity, Tim embraced the opportunity to be involved as something that might scare him, but ultimately make a difference. 

However, living on the streets proved to be a very different challenge for Tim. “You’re very exposed; it’s a really raw experience,” he says. “It was physically challenging and that wears you down…then it’s mentally challenging which makes you a little more vulnerable.”

The result is a three by one hour SBS TV presentation appropriately called Filthy Rich and Homeless which screens in ‘strip format’ from Tuesday 27 to Thursday 29 June at 8.30 pm. The volunteers include a third-generation pub baron, a beauty business entrepreneur and a male model, all people who live the high life as a matter of course. They bring with them their individual prejudices and opinions about who and what homeless people are. Most of them thought that the homeless were just those we see sleeping rough in our capital cities. They weren’t aware of people couch-surfing or living in their cars, shelters or rooming houses.

The program was produced by the award-winning Blackfella Films who have a history of making thought-provoking social issue documentaries and drama. The aim of the program was to highlight the plight of the more than 100,000 Australians who have nowhere to call home. 

This series is a significant one for SBS TV. According to the director of TV and online content, Marshall Heald, “Filthy Rich and Homeless is confronting, heartbreaking, and at times incredibly heart-warming as it shines a light on a part of our society often overlooked and ignored. By helping to make the invisible visible, the series aims to spark a national conversation around much-needed change for Australia’s significant homeless population.”

I don’t know that I’d still be alive if I had to live even half the life of these people, and that they are surviving is extraordinary.


Producer Jacob Hickey says that viewing the show gives the audience the chance to live vicariously through the five participants. “We want them to take away what it might feel like to be homeless, but we also want to break down some of the stereo­types of homelessness so that people perhaps don’t look at homelessness the way that they did previously.”

Hickey says he believes that the audience will quickly relate to the characters. “It’s surprising how quickly their real lives fell away…in a couple of days they were talking about being lonely, about feeling isolated and depressed. And I think for the audience that will give them a real insight into how it might feel to 
be homeless.”

Kayla Fenech, daughter of boxing champion Jeff, was one of the two women involved. She told Warcry that the people she met had a huge impact on her young life. They shared the meagre spoils from their begging with her to buy her a meal and she speaks to them or messages them every day since. “I think about them all the time. I’ve learnt how lucky I am in my life that I’ve never had to go through anything like they have. They’ve opened up my eyes a lot and I’d like to thank them for helping me.”

Tim adds, “So many of the people just inspired me with their resilience and it was really heart-warming for me. I don’t know that I’d still be alive if I had to live even half the life of these people, and that they are surviving is extraordinary. I still don’t know what it’s like to be homeless…but I got a small insight into it. [The show] will give an awareness that I think they’ve probably never seen before.”

Jacob Hickey says Filthy Rich and Homeless shows that the homelessness situation is not without hope and if we have a combined will, we can do something to make a huge difference.


Watch Tim sharing his experience on Filthy Rich and Homeless via his Facebook page.


Editor's note

Having worked in documentary and so-called ‘reality TV’ for decades, I am aware of the cynical and manipulative exercise that a TV series like this can become. Having had the privilege of seeing the team work firsthand I was impressed by the authenticity and inherent discipline of the crew and the participants.


Filthy Rich and Homeless promises to be a landmark series in terms of the increasingly concerning area of homelessness. As the largest provider of homelessness services in Australia, The Salvation Army is well and truly supportive of what the program-makers are attempting to achieve.


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