Proper Gander: TV
When reality TV is used as “a radical solution to one of Britain’s most stubborn social problems”, the hyperbole almost drowns out the sighs of desperation. Home Is Where The Heart Is (ITV1) follows four homeless people as they move in with some minor celebrities for a fortnight. And the desperation comes less from the homeless people involved than the celebrities trying to increase their exposure.
The programme reveals some simplistic attitudes towards homelessness, even among the more well-meaning celebs. One prominent belief is that the most important thing missing from the lives of homeless people is a job. So chef Aldo Zilly and presenter Anneka Rice arrange for their lodgers to get some work experience. Anneka’s lodger, Bridget, describes herself as a “tired, washed-up, drained girl” after spending her childhood caring for other family members. But even when it seems that what she needs is a rest and someone to listen to her, she stoically goes to her new work placement.
Less well-meaning among the celebs is Alex James, who actually says “don’t send me a mental” and is disappointed when his lodger, Danny, doesn’t recognise him. He used to be in Britpop band Blur. Alex sets Danny to work as a farm labourer and calls him “a disgrace to homeless people” when he struggles to adjust to the heavy regime. Alex’s attitude is to ignore the reasons behind Danny’s homelessness and encourage Danny to do the same. As a result, Danny’s mental health deteriorates and Alex loudly accuses the programme-makers of contriving the situation for the sake of good telly.
Far more touching are the scenes with Jim, who moves in with interior designers Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan. Jim is used to sleeping rough, and when faced with a four-poster bed, feels more comfortable bedding down on the carpet. After their shock that Jim needs alcohol in order to function, Colin and Justin realise that what he also needs are some happy memories. Taken for a helicopter ride and asked where he would like to fly, Jim jokingly replies “the off licence”.
Whether Home Is Where The Heart Is really benefits those involved remains to be seen. The ethos behind the project seems to be that when existing support services fail, turn to television. In that way, the programme shares an aim with the repellent The Jeremy Kyle Show. Why not look for the fundamental causes of homelessness instead? Like many people, television tends to ignore the homeless. So, the programme may at least do us a service by highlighting the stories behind those most victimised by capitalist society. That, and showing us what a tosser Alex James is.