Model’s ‘terrifying’ night with 9 men
There's a homelessness crisis in Australia and it's getting worse. The latest Census data showed 116,000 people in Australia have no place to call home.
The alarming statistic prompted five high-profile Australians, including model and actress Ellie Gonsalves, to swap their privileged lifestyles for 10 days of being homeless in NSW.
Gonsalves, 29, reveals what it is like to go from having everything to having absolutely nothing.
'I WAS STRIPPED OF ALL MY BELONGINGS'
Last year, I spent 10 days homeless in Sydney in the middle of winter. I was stripped of all my belongings - my phone, ID, money, clothes - and given second-hand clothes to wear, a sleeping bag, and put on the streets to live.
I wasn't allowed any outside communication; I was homeless and completely alone.
My experience living homeless was for SBS' documentary series Filthy Rich & Homeless, and it gave me the opportunity to experience what it's like for the 116,000 Australians who sleep rough every night.
In the second season, the participants filmed during Summer. This season Arron Wood, Andrew Rochford, Pauline Nguyen, Ciaran Lyons and I were filming in the middle of a rainy Sydney winter.
I had a good education growing up. I live a comfortable life and, being in the modelling and entertainment industry, I have travelled all over the globe to work with some of the most well-known brands and people in the world.
If I'm completely honest, when I was initially approached to take part in the documentary series I was pretty closed off to the idea. I was asked to do something and be around people I have been conditioned my entire life to avoid - it was scary.
But after thinking about it, I knew I had a voice and a large platform to create change within our society or at least raise awareness to the ongoing issue of homelessness in Australia.
I knew it would be an opportunity to help others and potentially change the circumstances of homelessness in our country. We are a product of our experiences and I feel like we help people more by understanding their circumstances first-hand and how we can move forward as a society to find better solutions.
Until this experience, homelessness wasn't something I felt exposed to growing up in Australia. Even though I had "experienced" a degree of what homelessness looked like while living in LA, I can honestly say I knew nothing.
Some people have pointed out that the five of us were just visitors in a real and horrific reality, as we're only living through the experience for 10 days and then we got to return to our privileged lives.
But this series isn't about how long we can be homeless for; it's about people who are genuinely sleeping rough, their stories, how inadequate our current solutions are to this issue and how to shine more of a spotlight on homelessness, in the hopes of bringing about positive change.
The professionals and organisations that I spoke with throughout the experience work tirelessly on these issues and gave me another perspective and helped me understand the harsh reality of homelessness as well.
The people who live their life sleeping rough, who go without money, shelter, food, support, feeling safe, communication and sometimes even without eye contact and a smile, absolutely broke me.
'SEVERAL MEN HECKLED ME ON THE STREET'
This experience was emotionally debilitating. I watched a man overdose and be revived by EMTs then watched a man being pursued by police then hit by a car and thrown across the road. Throughout the whole experience, I barely slept because I was so anxious about my surroundings after several men heckled me on the street.
I had bruises all over my body from sleeping on the ground or wherever I could find shelter, but I don't think I hit my real breaking point until I was in a boarding house with nine men. It was the filthiest place I've ever stayed and I will never forget those few nights.
My outhouse bathroom windows were smashed; my toilet door did not lock or close. I had cockroaches crawling all over me in my sleep. As a woman, it was incredibly confronting and frightening. There are not nearly enough solutions in place to help people get back on their feet or even give them somewhere safe to live, especially if they are running from domestic or sexual violence.
I came into this experience as someone who was very uneducated about homelessness, and I left with so much more empathy and understanding. I feel inspired to do my part towards consciously shining a light on this serious societal issue in Australia and I am so proud to have had the opportunity with the entire team that created and produced the show.
Since the announcement of my involvement in the series, many have asked; how can I help with homelessness? We can start by respecting and acknowledging rough sleepers, donate money or clothing to a charity, volunteer with a homeless organisation in your area and you can advocate for homeless people by helping groups in your community whose policy and initiatives support the goal of ending homelessness.
I encourage all Australians to watch this series to get a better understanding of how people find themselves in these situations and, in turn, I hope they can express greater kindness towards the homeless. If we can all exercise more compassion, generosity and understanding I believe it will reach the right places.
Filthy Rich & Homeless premieres June 9 - 11 at 8.30pm on SBS
Originally published as Model's 'terrifying' night with 9 men