By Benjamin Law
Diving in bins for food; literally sleeping on the streets; having cockroaches crawl over my bare back; using a Sydney toilet that was so rotted and foul that it continues to haunt me now – all those experiences were pretty intense.
But in the end, I discovered I could handle all that. If you watch the show – still available on SBS On Demand – you’ll see what affected me most about experiencing various forms of Australian homelessness over 10 days was delving into the experiences of real homeless Australians.
One of the things that shocked me most was how young so many of them are. Singer and social media star Ally Simpson was one of my castmates, and only 19 when we filmed the show. However, as we learned during the show, statistically, she was actually quite old compared to actual Australians who first start living without stable housing. So many of the homeless adults I befriended during the shoot also started sleeping rough when they were in the early-to-mid teens. Many of them were kids.
So when Sir David Martin Foundation approached me to abseil down a building to raise awareness for their exceptional charity work, I didn’t even need to think about it. Only problem is, as much as I don’t fear roaches, gross toilets and rough sleeping, I do fear heights. I’m the kind of person who feels nauseous on balconies above the third floor. In large shopping malls, I have to approach the guard rails like I would a wild animal: hands out, using small steps, since I’m clearly stepping into a fatal situation.
At the same time, I do feel safe in a harness (from years of rock climbing with friends, you perverts), but a 135m skyscraper … is a different prospect. As I discovered on the day though, the biggest problem isn’t the height: it’s the rope burn. Turns out dropping from a building with nothing but gravity pulling you down, and nothing but your hands between you and certain death … causes quite a bit of friction and heat.
But I managed. And what was fortifying and encouraging was seeing people get over their fear of heights, their anxiety that they’d fail, and one by one reach the ground to peals of relieved laughter. I abseiled down the Market Street building with vulnerable young people from Triple Care Farm – the youth rehabilitation program for which we were raising funds – who were building the skills to work through a rough patch. And sometimes, as we learned on the day, there’s no better way to do that than staring at your fear directly, and diving right off.