ON Tuesday night, the third season of a critically acclaimed Australian documentary series, Filthy Rich and Homeless, screens on SBS.
Repeating the format it began with in 2017, Filthy Rich and Homeless assembles five "prominent Australians" and sends them out for 10 days and nights to live on the streets, plunging them into a world they soon admit they had no real conception of.
This time, two participants, emergency doctor and businessman, Dr Andrew Rochford, and the Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Arron Wood, end up in the Hunter on the third and final episode on Thursday night.
Dr Rochford stays at the Freemans Springs Caravan Park at Freemans Waterhole, off the M1 west of Toronto.
Cr Wood, a high-profile environmentalist in Victoria who was elected to Melbourne Council in 2012, is driven from Sydney to stay three nights at a boarding house in Adamstown.
That boarding house, on the corner of Victoria Street and Gosford Road, is one of three in Newcastle owned and operated by Aaron Buman, who lost his two-term seat on Newcastle council the year Cr Wood was elected in Melbourne.
His other two boarding houses are at Carrington and Mayfield.
In September 2018, the Carrington and Mayfield properties hit the headlines when the council ordered them closed, calling them "death traps" for their alleged lack of fire safety.
Three months later, on December 26, a team of council officers took a search warrant to Adamstown, and came out insisting on a raft of changes after a "tense" 70-minute inspection.
Carrington and Mayfield reopened last year, and Adamstown was able to stay open while work to bring it into line with the council's expectations continues.
Mr Buman said he deliberately kept a low profile after the Adamstown inspection.
But he says ratepayers should know that the council lost the two Newcastle court cases it took against him, and that he had "no choice" but to take the council to the Land and Environment Court over what he says was a "deemed refusal" to approve a development application he was made to lodge for Adamstown despite it operating for years as a boarding house before he bought it.
Speaking yesterday, Cr Wood said he was aware of the boarding house dispute, and did not want to involve himself in another council's affairs.
But he said it was obvious that Mr Buman was doing good work in the community.
"What he does for people who have had some tough things happen to them in their lives should be supported wholeheartedly by the wider community," Cr Wood said yesterday.
The scenes screening on Thursday night were shot last winter.
Cr Wood said he had been through some "harrowing" times Sydney, including being stood over and abused by a genuinely homeless person while waiting in line for a food handout.
"They don't tell you where you are off to," Cr Wood said.
"I was there for three nights.
"They simply said to me: 'You're going to a boarding house'.
"We got into the van in Sydney and they drove me up.
"They didn't tell me where I was.
"They just dropped me off near the shops at the top of the hill (on Brunker Road) and said it's down there, you'll find it.
"I met some great people in my short time there and you could see how important the chance was for people to have a roof over their heads.
"How important that sense of community was to them."
Mr Buman said the team behind Filthy Rich and Homeless approached him about filming.
What he does for people who have had some tough things happen to them in their lives should be supported wholeheartedly by the wider communityMelbourne Deputy Mayor Arron Wood
"They came up and had a look around and said they wanted to do it," Mr Buman said.
"It seems like ages ago now.
"They knew about the problems between us and the council, but that wasn't part of the story and as I didn't have anything to do on camera, you don't see me, I stayed well away, then it wasn't a problem.
"I will say this, though.
"When they came back to me and told me it was screening, I emailed all of the councillors, inviting them again to come out and have a look for themselves instead of relying on what they get told at City Hall.
"But it was just more silence at that end."
Mr Buman said the lengths the council had gone to by insisting on bureaucratic detail over practicality made it seem like there was "a vendetta" against him.
In 2018, council chief executive Jeremy Bath said the council's fire-safety engineer had identified an "extreme" fire risk at the boarding houses, meaning the council had no choice but to close them.
"We appreciate the gravity of the action we have taken," Mr Bath said at the time.
"The men living in these homes are often those who are only able to live in the community because of the availability of cheap accommodation.
"But, unfortunately, the owner of the properties has shown complete disregard for the safety of the men."
With Adamstown catering for men who might have their children staying with them for short periods of time in custody arrangements, Mr Buman says it's not just "homeless men" who need boarding house accommodation.
"I've said from the start, my guys appreciate the stability and the support and the help they get here," Mr Buman said.
"We get people referred to us from all of the agencies, Corrective Services, Family and Community Services, Housing NSW, the Drug Court.
"We assist the Mater mental health team.
"We are doing exactly what the system is supposed to do. We keep them off the street and help them get their lives together."
While City of Newcastle's position on two relatively minor matters was not successful in the Local Court, these outcomes did not override councils necessary regulatory actions to improve fire safetyNewcastle City Council on its prosecutions of Mr Buman
The various agencies confirmed that they had been sending clients to Mr Buman's company, Newcastle Affordable Accommodation (NAA), endorsing his work but declining to comment on them being happy to send clients there at the same time as the council was publicly criticising the various premises.
Hunter New England Health said: "It can be extremely challenging for mental health clients experiencing homelessness to find stable accommodation, which is a key factor contributing to a person's recovery and ability to maintain their wellness in the community.
"When mental health clients are leaving hospital, are homeless or have limited choices, boarding houses are an option they can consider.
"We are aware that in the past clients have opted to go to Newcastle Affordable Accommodation."
With a reference to Filthy Rich and Homeless, the Herald sent a series of questions to the council.
"It said Carrington and Mayfield had been closed because of "significant fire safety risks and extensive unauthorised works", and reopened after Mr Buman agreed to "significant improvements" in fire and building works."
"While City of Newcastle's position on two relatively minor matters was not successful in the Local Court, these outcomes did not override council's necessary regulatory actions to improve fire safety," the council said.
To this, Mr Buman said: "If these matters were 'relatively minor' why go to that length, and spend all of that ratepayers' money in the process?"
The council confirmed it had refused the Adamstown DA, which had been lodged to "regularise the whole site as a boarding house".
It said Mr Buman had agreed to reduce the number of rooms from 56 to 45.
Mr Buman said the council seemed to determined to make things difficult.
"If it's not a vendetta, 'maybe they just don't like boarding houses, and don't want one in Adamstown?"
- Filthy Rich and Homeless screens on SBS nationally on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8.30pm. The Adamstown boarding house appears in Episode Three. Also available by streaming on sbs.com.au
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