SUPPORTING the needs of those who are homeless is now a higher priority for Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood. (PICTURED)

The renowned environmentalist, who grew up in Mildura, got a first-hand look into the life of living on the streets during the filming of Australian mini-series ‘Filthy Rich & Homeless’.

Series Three of the SBS program will be broadcast next week over three nights in a bid to highlight the nation’s ongoing homeless crisis.

Mr Wood was joined in filming by emergency doctor and businessman Dr Andrew Rochford; restaurateur and entrepreneur Pauline Nguyen; comedian and radio presenter Ciaran Lyons; and actress and model Ellie Gonsalves.

During filming, the five participants were separated to experience different forms of homelessness – from sleeping rough on the streets to living in crisis accommodation and marginal housing, including boarding houses and caravan parks. With their phones, ID and money taken from them, the quintet were given secondhand clothing, a sleeping bag and nothing else.

While homelessness had always been an issue Mr Wood wanted to address, the 44-year-old admitted he was “fired up” to do something following his 10-day experience.

“I’m at pains to say that I was never truly homeless,” he said. “Even being out there, I knew that once it was all done, I’d be back under my roof with my support network and my own bed to sleep in.

“What it did help me realise is how vulnerable some people can be when forced into these situations.

“All the stuff that’s happening with the COVID-19 pandemic just shows how quickly it can all turn for the worse. Some people who may have never expected to be out of a job all of a sudden are.

Mr Wood said that it’s not a life for anyone, and we should never just see it as a part of our existence and keep going about our day.

“If you don’t have a pre-existing mental health issue before you’re homeless, you soon will,” he said.

“The solutions are all there, we just all have to work together and put our money where our mouth is.

“I came out of the experience really fired up. I’ve been able to secure some significant funding to support Salvation Army centres, and we’re looking at doing some big fund-raising for the Salvo’s Red Shield Appeal.”

Mr Wood added that his Council “was proud of the things they have been doing, in particular, really pushing the Victorian Government to provide stimulus housing packages”.

Figures from the most recent Census showed 116,000 people in Australia have no place to call home.

Filming for Filthy Rich & Homeless took place before the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple locations across New South Wales, including central Sydney, Western Sydney, and regional cities and towns including Newcastle, Wollongong, Dapto and Nowra.

The five participants met those who live without a home every day, heard their heartbreaking stories of survival and gained a unique insight and understanding of the varied and complex reasons for how and why homelessness exists. They also meet professionals at specialist services who are trying to end homelessness with innovative and successful initiatives.

Guiding the group on their journeys were acclaimed journalist and passionate advocate Indira Naidoo, and social researcher and homelessness expert Dr Catherine Robinson.

Mr Wood said he was approached by a respected acquaintance who suggested taking part in the series.

“While I hadn’t seen the show before, I’d heard it was quite popular, and luckily, the first two seasons were available to watch,” he said.

“I did my homework and I was struck by how much respect they gave to the issue. After watching the first two seasons I thought I was reasonably prepared for what was in store, but I wasn’t.

“We were all then put into a van and basically taken to different areas of Sydney. I was dropped off around the Black Rock area and was told ‘off you go’.

“It really hit me within the first couple of hours just how different the environment is at night time, and that sense of hopelessness you feel.”

Across 10 days, Mr Wood spent nights on the street, in crisis accommodation, boarding houses, and even lived out of a car with a homeless man.

“They were all confronting for different reasons,” he said. “I spent two nights living out of a car with a guy named Bill. The stuff we filmed with him was pretty tough, and I was surprised that from being complete strangers how quickly we bonded in that time.

“At the accommodation centres you need to have your wits about you. And at one stage in line at a food van in Martin Place, there was a pretty large guy who took issue with me.

“Growing up as a country boy in Mildura, my Mum had been a social worker for many years and she often volunteered to help the homeless where she could.

“I think we all need to realise too, that homelessness isn’t affected by borders. It can happen to anyone, in any town, in any State. It’s not just a city issue. We need to come together to knock this issue on the head.”

Filthy Rich & Homeless will be broadcast at 8.30pm next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, June 9 to 11, on SBS. The series will also be available on SBS On Demand immediately after its premiere.