A Saturday night in the life of model Christian Wilkins, 22, might include a candlelit bubble bath and a glass of Pinot Grigio in a luxurious Sydney home.
Yet on a Saturday night in an alternate universe he and four other privileged Australians are stripped of their own things, left with no money, carry meagre possessions in a plastic bag and are dropped in different parts of Melbourne to survive as best they can.
It’s all for the new series Filthy Rich and Homeless – screening on SBS on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm.
In an interview with The New Daily, Wilkins explained that he made a conscious decision not to cry and whinge about his 10-day experience and got on with surviving.
“This experience is not about the five of us,” he said. “It’s about the people we are meeting, about this issue so I found if I’m hearing these people’s stories, getting upset and thinking about myself isn’t going to do anything.
“I tried to keep a brave face on so the focus wasn’t on me.”
The young model, who is the son of TV star Richard Wilkins, said he wanted to learn more of the lives of an estimated 100,000 Australians who have no home.
In doing so, he busked (earning $4 in two hours), went dumpster diving for food and attempted to find the safest places to sleep.
He also tried to meet as many people as he could to understand their lives.
“I was also very conscious that I signed up for this documentary but someone I met on the street didn’t and I didn’t want to put them in a position where they give information that they later regret,” he said.
He talks now of the strength and resilience he found among the people he met, such as Nigel, who sleeps in a tent on the banks of the Yarra in one of Melbourne’s wealthiest suburbs.
“He told me that if you didn’t have a mental illness or an addiction before you became homeless, you soon would,” Wilkins said.
“He also told me he drank before he slept so he could stop thinking about his situation.”
Wilkins did cry with Lucy, a transgender woman he met in a squat. Her future was uncertain after a past full of bad experiences.
“She was just a beautiful, kind and vulnerable person,” he said.
“It wasn’t talking about her past experiences (that made me cry). It was the future, the unknown, my heart just broke for her.”
He said the experience taught him to appreciate even more the support he has from family and friends.
“I’m really lucky to be able to say that we love each other unconditionally. I always appreciated it but I didn’t appreciate that a lot of people don’t have that.”
So, what can people do? Start talking to people who are homeless, Wilkins said.
“For me and for the people I was talking to, that makes a difference. Just say hello or, if you have time, sit down and talk.
“Ask them ‘how are you?’, ‘do you need anything?’ It’s acknowledging them, making them feel worthwhile and important.”