From homeless to hopeless

Bec Bridges in conversation with Luke Robson

Luke Robson and Marina Loncaric, in an effort to change people’s perceptions of the homeless, made a documentary that saw Luke voluntarily live on the streets for five days. Over the course of his stay, he began to understand the fierce and taxing effects of homelessness on one’s mental state.

Luke threw what he could into two backpacks, knowing that anything he might need over the next five days would have to be in these bags. He packed what film equipment he could and set off on his journey. His food budget was a meagre $2 a day, a limit set by his participation in the Live Below the Line campaign.

His first night was spent in a warehouse of sorts, somewhere in Brunswick, where he managed to find shelter and an old kettle:

Day one

“I wouldn’t say I slept. Waking every 20 minutes freezing cold and sore from lying on the ground, worried that someone might turn up and bust me. But I felt safe and I wasn’t hungry.”

No Right Turn was screened at the Project Homeless film festival, which took place in Paramatta in July 2014.

Bec Bridges spoke to Luke about his film, No Right Turn and the lessons that came out of it. Intercepted are extracts from Luke’s diary that he kept while living on the streets. 

Right Now: What drove you to make this documentary?

Luke Robson: I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve had to live out of my car for a few months, but at least I had a car to sleep in, or a friend’s couch I could crash on for the night. When I heard about the film festival Project Homeless I thought it would be a good opportunity to see what is was like to really be homeless without any support. I was participating in Live Below the Line at the same time as well.

Day two

“By the time the sun set I was well-rested and ready to take on the night. By this time I felt that my body had adjusted to the hunger pains and food was not my top priority. (Although I do catch myself staring at food in restaurant windows like a child at a lolly shop.)”

Now that you’ve had some time to reflect, how would you describe your experience while shooting?

It was a big eye opener for me. To be honest, I thought that it would have been easier. I couldn’t believe how much energy I lost. I wasn’t eating properly so it was hard to get motivated to do anything. It’s easy for people to say that the homeless should go out and get a job, but after a few days I didn’t have the energy to go to a [job] interview. I was hungry, tired, confused and without a shower or clean clothes. Who would even hire me? It’s just not that easy.

Day three

“When I sit on the streets with my bags, no shower, tired, hungry and I watch society walk past, I feel worthless.”

In what ways do you think the Australian community is misinformed about homeless people?

I’d say a lot of people think most homeless people are all drunks and drug addicts. If I’d had to live on the streets for any longer than I did, then I would have done anything for a bottle of wine everyday to help me get through it. Anyone could find themselves homeless for any number of reasons and it only took a few days for my mental state to diminish and move into survival mode, and if a bottle of wine a day helped me to survive, then so be it.

Day four

“I was up well before sunrise to meet Marina for our daily catch up. Today we decided to meet at ‘suicide bridge’ for sunrise. It’s a train bridge that runs across a valley, and you are able to get up under it and walk right across the valley, not recommended if you are scared of heights. They have even netted up a section that hangs above the footpath below.”

What makes work like No Right Turn so important in terms of bringing social issues to the fore?

I think the festival itself, Project Homeless, should be acknowledged for bringing filmmakers together and bringing attention to issues that need more community awareness.

What did you, personally, learn from your experience?

I learnt that pride gets in the way of asking for help. I thought it would be easy to ask for help, but when people look down on you for being on the streets there is no way you want to ask for help and be humiliated. At least if you do it tough and rough it out yourself then you have something. But if you lose that pride, you then have nothing. You give into society and think that you are worthless.

Maria Loncaric: It was a confronting subject matter and it really opened my eyes to the amount of homeless people in our city and changed my perception and attitude to the issue. Just how difficult it is for people in those situations to be rehabilitated back into society. We need to be more compassionate and active in helping to change it.

What do you hope viewers gain from watching the documentary?

When I started the documentary I just wanted people to be a little more aware of the homeless and not be so judgmental. Now I hope that people will think more about the rapidly diminishing mental state of people that end up on the street. It happens so fast and it feels like it would be impossible to come back from.

Day five

“The last two days I decided to go hungry rather than eat one more Vita Brit. I can tell you that being homeless even when love, warmth and safety is just around the corner is still very tough, so one can only imagine what it must really be like.”