Thousands of Slovak viewers follow life of businessman who turns homeless

Photo: Commission européenne

Central Europe has been gripped by reality show fever - primarily by the show Big Brother, where a selected number of people with very different personalities spend a few months in a luxurious villa and have to get along. But in Slovakia, people were glued to their TV screens last week to follow the life of a businessman turned homeless.

A town of more than half a million inhabitants. During the day bustling with activity and busy people. At night, the streets of Bratislava seem dark and uninviting, especially in winter time. But just how rough are they? A 33 year old Slovak decided to find this out for himself. For three days Tomas's home will be the streets of Bratislava.

Welcome to the homeless reality show! Tomas, a businessman from southern Slovakia cast for a reality show which promised people 3 days without a home. He was chosen from 11 contestants to join the ranks of the homeless in Bratislava.

"I mainly went out there out of curiosity. I wanted to see how I would cope if I ended up on the street. All it takes is one wrong step in life. I found out that I could survive on the street, I think eveyrone could. I am certain I needed this quick course in survival."

...says Tomas Valacsay. He was sent out to the streets with no money. All he received was clothing from a charity and 3 copies of the Nota Bene street magazines.

"I needed money, so I went to sell the magazines straight away. It was hard at first, but then it got going. The money I got from this I invested to buy more magazines."

... truly the mind of as businessman. The first thing Tomas bought as a homeless person was a packet of cigarettes, so how easy is it to make money on the streets?

Photo: European Commission
"Making money if you're homeless is not the same as in normal life. Here you have to obey a basic rule. Spend whatever you have and don't keep anything for the night, because you will be robbed."

As we can imagine turning from a businessman to a life in the streets was hardest at night. What Tomas says he missed most of all was his warm bed.

"The first night was the hardest. Actually I could not even sleep. I was outside, on a bench at the Mlynske nivy bus station. I was very cold because I did not yet have a perfect homeless man's bedroom. This means a good warm blanket of some sort. I got it the next day from a lady. When she found out that I was homeless she brought me over a blanket. A very positive experience."

Tomas was not sent to the streets without any traning, but had a guide to lead him through some of the hardest obstacles that you have to face in the streets. Although Jozef, the guide, spent only about 10 hours with Tomas in the three days he taught him the basics of surviving on the street.

"The basic rule is to keep the few valuable things you have, money or your ID, as close to you as possible, under many layers of clothes, even when you sleep. I said to him the less alcohol he drinks the better for him. Then it is important to take off your shoes when you go to sleep, because if you don't, in the morning you'll have cold feet. And if you need something, you don't always have to have money to get it. For example you can get very decent clothing from dustbins in various residential areas, as well as food, for free."

And Tomas learned. He was robbed at night and had to replace the stuff he had collected.

"They took my whole bedroom, which means a bag full of warm clothes. Rule number one, all your belongings must be under your head when you sleep, especially shoes so that they don't steal them"

The Homeless Reality show organised by the Proti Prudu Association, which also issues the street magazine Nota Bene, has a broader aim than just capturing one man's experience. Jana Cavojska editor-in-chief of Nota Bene explains

"Our reality show shows the real reality in the streets. The purpose, why we are doing it is that we want to show life of the people in the streets, their problems, the situation in which they are in ... In Slovakia we don't have good services for these people and they don't have an opportunity to change their situation."

The reason why Tomas voluntarily became homeless for 3 days was to test himself, whether he could survive this kind of life. And he learned more than just that:

"Although I was not shaved and did not have very fancy clothing, people behaved normally to me and had no idea I was homeless. One thing that I didn't know before was that 90 percent of homeless people live among us and we have no idea they are homeless. Very pretty, nicely dressed girls that I would never even have thought could be homeless are out sleeping in parks."