Senior case manager Editha Aguila-Planes shares about her experience filming the SBS documentary series Filthy Rich and Homeless.

Editha Aguila-Planes has been a valued Mission Australia staff member for over 17 years. She’s currently a senior case manager at Fairfax House, one of our transitional housing services in Kingswood, a suburb of western Sydney. This week, Editha will star in Filthy Rich and Homeless , a three-part SBS documentary which follows five wealthy Australians who swap their life of privilege for homelessness.

Across Australia, transitional housing provides supported accommodation to people who need support for periods of time. In theory, a period with a secure home and integrated wraparound case management support gives people a platform from which to find suitable long-term accommodation and move to independent living.

Although, as Selvi’s ongoing battle to find permanent housing shows, the lack of social and affordable housing makes moving on to that next step very difficult.

Fairfax House specifically houses families and can accommodate up to 22 families in two- and three-bedroom units. On a daily basis, Editha helps families to find and retain safe, secure and affordable housing and gain the skills and knowledge to prevent a return to homelessness. This could involve anything from researching and finding affordable and suitable places for families to rent in the private rental market and organising housing application forms to transporting families to open house viewings if Editha’s schedule permits.

The path to achieve this, as will be seen this week on Filthy Rich and Homeless, can be difficult to navigate. In the Penrith LGA where Editha works, the waiting list for social housing is over 10 years and affordable private rentals are few and far between.

We caught up with Editha to hear about her recent TV appearance and learn about the important work she does.

How was your experience filming Filthy Rich and Homeless?

Nerve-racking! I’m not used to interviews and filming – I usually work behind the curtains and let clients take centre stage. I opted to forget that it was being filmed and went through the housing process with the client as we normally do. That wasn’t scripted and it was our normal meeting schedule, so it felt as natural as it possibly could!

What was it like meeting Skye Leckie?

Impressive. I could see and feel that she has genuine motivation and care to help families experiencing homelessness. She was very much interested in knowing why families can’t find a place to rent. She verbalised that she will do something about the broken housing system. It was the first time I’d heard someone say “I will do something about the system”.

What do you hope that people learn by watching Filthy Rich and Homeless?

I hope people learn that homelessness does not only impact the “poor” in our community, it affects everyone in one way or another. The pain and suffering our families experience could happen to anyone at different times. I’m also hoping it will educate the public on the complexity of homelessness. It is a complex issue and resolving it needs collaborative effort from all levels, starting from the top.

Homelessness is not just the absence of a roof over somebody’s head. We are dealing with families who have been suffering for months or years and as such, should be treated with respect and dignity and be helped in a genuine, humane way.

What kinds of challenges do families encounter in trying to find permanent housing?

  • Rental affordability. The majority of the families we work with cannot afford private rentals. Real estate agents prefer applicants who are working rather than those presenting Centrelink income statements and those with stable housing history rather than those in transitional accommodation.
  • Navigating social housing. It’s tough for most families applying for the program, who are mainly classified as unsuitable for urgent housing. I was recently told homelessness is no longer a major ground for the housing office to assist clients get affordable accommodation from their supply. Most of our families are directed to the private rental market – but only 1 in 10 families I work with will be approved in this market.

This is the scenario we find ourselves in time and time again. Selvi’s story really articulates that.

What keeps you motivated in the work you do? 

My vocation is to make a difference to others and myself. I love the challenge and anticipation of what I could do better every day to help others, the emerging motivation I see in the families I work with and the change I see in families when they realise there is another way of doing things.

We share the aspiration of overcoming obstacles and attaining goals slowly, and the thank you and tears of joy from families I work with when they are finally able to gain independence and attain their goals is so special. To see that smile and relief etched in the faces of the parents and children I work with is enough motivation for me to go on with my work no matter how difficult the road is. When I see those smiles, I know we did right.

What happens to clients once their time is up at Fairfax House?

Transitional housing is funded through NSW Government and therefore there are guidelines on tenancy time limits (up to 18 months). It’s tempting to want to keep people in transitional housing but equally it’s important that we have those spaces available for urgent need. Also, families do want to move out and live independently, but what they need is safe, secure and affordable options. Obviously the major issue is the lack of housing for families to move into.

That being said, so long as a family is still engaging with us and fulfilling their tenancy obligations Mission Australia would not exit someone into homelessness. We continue to work together; we don’t give up. We persist and continue to walk with them every step of the way in resolving their needs. We advocate for them to stay in transitional accommodation so they won’t have to go back to the street, and the house-seeking process becomes more intensive.

It’s hard though. This is a battle we face constantly. It’s so challenging, we simply need more housing that is affordable for this group.

What ongoing support do we offer to clients while they wait for permanent housing?

Fairfax House staff continue to work with families until they find somewhere more stable and affordable to live. We don’t stop working with families, even when they exit the service and find somewhere more permanent to transfer to. We offer outreach service and locate community services and resources that families can access in the long term, before ending work commitments with the family.

Tune in to see Editha in action on the final episode of Filthy Rich and Homeless on Thursday 16 August.

Filthy Rich and Homeless airs on SBS over three nights from Tuesday 14 August to Thursday 16 August at 8:30pm. It will also be available on SBS On Demand.

Read more: The reality of Reality TV – James Toomey, Mission Australia CEO

Read more: Homelessness can affect anyone – Selvi’s story

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