what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin

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“Homeless Kids of Orange County” Documentary

California is one of the top ten economies in the world, and logically, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. For families struggling to make ends meet, problems such as homelessness can be a burden placed upon a family whose breadwinners do not sufficiently make enough to keep a roof over everyone’s head. In places like Orange County, California, as one mother calculated, that would mean making at least $20/hr or $3,000 a month in order to cover just basic life expenses. This is beyond the reach for many in the non-skilled work sector without taking two or more jobs. Survival is very hard work for the living poor.

“Homeless Kids of Orange County” focuses on the families living in a motel across the street from Disneyland, in an ironic juxtaposition of tragic proportions. The children featured in the film have never been to Disneyland because of their families financial situations, but still climb the stairs of parking garages to watch the fireworks at night. They do not have a steady place to live, but remark with great insight that being homeless in America is better than other places because “the homeless get food in America”. Their small lives are filled with such intense instability and they are completely aware of it. One kid remarks that it “sucks” to be homeless, there is no privacy and few options for entertainment, with many scenes consisting of children creating toys out of resources like plants and things evicted families have left behind. The children witness violence, drug use, and a great police presence. It is not a suitable environment for them, and they are aware of this fact.

The film’s subjects attend Project Hope School, which is a public school also supported by a foundation that caters exclusively to homeless children so that they will not have to constantly go through the process of redistricting every time they move. Project Hope provides food and school supplies to the children and supportive resources that are specifically designed for the needs of homeless children. Since the school does not have a lot of students everyone is taught in a single classroom. Even though this is a supportive environment, one can see the impact of homelessness and their school environment on the children. There are complaints of not being able to focus because one’s younger siblings are in the same classroom bickering, there is observation of Miranda rights during a discussion on early American history when one boy utters “I have the right to remain silent”, a third grader is featured saying that he wants “a big mansions and all the guns”. The children are clearly effected negatively by their surroundings, some of them are doing their best and some of them act out negatively.

One very poignant moment in the film is when the Brewster family is evicted. The Brewster family consisted of five people and four dogs, and the mother worked in a parking lot at Disneyland making about $12/hr. homeless kids

Zack was a badly behaved little boy who was insufficiently and inappropriately entertained at the motel. Instead of receiving positive attention and stimulating experiences, Zack fell victim to what many children who live in poverty fall victim to: becoming his own worst enemy. Zack’s behavior was rambunctious and his working mother with three other children could not adequately give him the positive attention he needed in order to be properly functional. When the Brewsters were kicked out was one of the scarier points made in the documentary because it gave a storyline to how families are evicted from the property. A parent has control over their child to a degree, and in a desperate situation, may loose more control because of the choatic nature of desperate situations. When a child can be solely responsible for destroying the safety and welfare of a family’s living environment, the stability of that living situation was barely tenable at best. The instability of living in a motel is constantly remarked about in the film, especially since families are paying by the week to live in their rooms.

The filmmaker, Alexandra Pelosi, asks the kids “Why would god let kids be homeless?”. The first girl gives a dark response, she doesn’t know and doesn’t like it that god lets her be poor. The second girl gives a more poignant answer, “God provides what you need, he only gives you the things you really need not the things you wish for”. The different type of familial support that is constructed during a crisis period such as homelessness can be seen in the attitudes of different children. The children whose families decide to stick together, create rules, and move forward do better with their attitudes than the children whose families become depressed or stuck in the chaotic ghetto environment of the motel. Many of the children seem to exhibit at least some basic signs of depression, such as not having any hope for the future, “Nothing, nothing at all” the same little girl answers who gave the dark response to “why would god let kids be homeless”. It is very disheartening to witness because life is already such a burden to these young children and they already face so many obstacles that are completely out of their control.

The trials and tribulations of children may seem irrelevant to adults but the overall story line of this documentary is indicitave of how the American economy and government treats its poor. Corporate America seems dedicated to ensuring that a livable wage is just slightly beyond grasp for many working Americans. Taking two jobs seems to be the solution for many, which is absurd because a person should be able to make a living from one forty-hour work week job. Corporate America sees workers as expendable and figures, not the humans who have to go back to a crowded motel to live after a hard day’s work with no vacations and no breaks to relax. The American government provides a small amount of aid to needy families, such as food stamps, but there is still more need than services to go around. While the children remark that it is due to the American government that they have free lunches and breakfasts, legislators in Congress have yet to raise the federal minimum wage to a livable wage for working Americans.

The documentary “Homeless Kids of Orange County” pulls at the heartstrings while delivering a very concise message about the discrepancy of wealth in the United States.

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“Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” Documentary

Homelessness is a societal problem with many different implications for the homeless persons. To a degree in the United States, homelessness is now becoming illegal as is helping the homeless. For certain, a society can be judged how it treats its homeless, and in the United States, the legal establishment has not been kind to the homeless.

The documentary “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” focuses on several homeless persons who live in Skid Row in Los Angeles. Skid Row is a fifty block conglomerate of primarily single adult housing units and is a low economic area with arguably the nation’s largest homeless population. It was established by a court case, Jones v. City of Los Angeles after it was found unconstitutional under the eight amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment that police could not destroy homeless camps in Skid Row because of the city’s housing shortage and thus the actions of the homeless could not be criminalized. Skid Row is a place of institutional proportions because it is also home to a large number of mentally ill persons. When the mental asylums were closed in the 1980’s by President Reagan, the policy toward the mentally ill became one of pharmaceuticals and little else support. The reason why so many people are homeless also have mentally health issues is because of the lack of community support, and in Los Angeles, many of them end up at Skid Row. Similarly, the Cook County Jail, LA’s jail, is also the largest mental health facility in the United States. The prevalence of jail and homelessness for the mentally ill makes logical sense since many cannot create the stability in order to lead productively healthy lives. Skid Row is an institution in and of itself for the mentally ill.

One of the characters the audience meets is Lee Anne, an eccentric old cat lady who cares for the cats and birds on Skid Row. She has a full shopping cart and a fiance who follows her around, a fellow by the name of K.K. Both share a mutually beneficially relationship by taking care and looking out for one another. K.K. remarks that to a degree, they have both chosen to be on the street. For him, he wanted to be “wild” and engaged in the drug lifestyle. For Lee Anne, she prefers to live outside despite having an apartment, K.K. reveals. Lee Anne has a mental illness where she collects trash, however, she seems to be one of the souls of Skid Row who is genuinely trying  to make it a better, more improved place to live by taking care of the animals. We meet Emanuel Compito, a man who voluntarily literally cleans up the streets of Skid Row with a broom and occasionally takes time to wash the streets with buckets of water. When the city continued to refuse to clean the streets, Compito took it upon himself to improve conditions for himself and his fellow Skid Rowers.

There is a great tension within the city of Los Angeles between the business owners, government leaders, and the advocates of  the homeless. People who are homeless exist because we live in a capitalistic society where peoples’ value and worth is measured  in financial terms. In capitalist societies, there are more people than jobs to create demand for jobs at the same time there is more available housing than there is people in the housing. Homelessness, theoretically, does not need to be a problem, it is the system it exists within that creates the problem. William J. Bratton was brought in to assist the city with “cleaning up” Skid Row. Bratton infamously helped “clean-up” New York City in the 1990’s. Bratton is a proponent of the “broken-windows” theory of policing that dictates that small quality of life policing is more conducive in the fight against crime and the chaos crime can bring. This means stopping people for simple violations and essentially taking a zero tolerance policy on law breaking. It means that the police become a large, unstoppable force with which there is no reckoning, and it wrecks devastation on the citizens it is enforced against. There is a disturbing scene when the police harass Lee Anne; she puts the contents of her cart and the belongings of other homeless folk in the street because the police informed her that they would be cleaning the street that day. In a chaotic exclamation of calamity, Lee Anne tries to salvage the belongings while managing to keep track of everything. She later finds out that she was being harassed by the police, that there was no street cleaning scheduled for that day and that because of the debacle some homeless people lost all their sleeping blankets. It is a scene that crystallizes the struggle of the homeless plight.

Bratton enforced quality of life arrests because it disproportionately puts pressure on the homeless person to live their lives in a way that does not favor their current lifestyle, the policy is intended to force these people out of homelessness as if many of them weren’t trying to begin with. For example, people violating the ordinance stating that no one can sleep on a city side walk can be fined up to $1,000, a sum of money a homeless person surely does not have.

Legally, the battle in the courts over homelessness is an issue of conduct versus status. That is, a homeless person may be protected under the law like in the Jones case against cruel and unusual punishment if they were left with no other alternative for their conduct and thus their status as a homeless person allows them more protection. However, the conduct of a homeless person for example lying on the street could be construed as illegal because of city ordinances or other public safety rules, therefore allowing the conduct to be criminalized. It is a chicken versus egg issue, one whose coin can be flipped depending on the judge or set of judges at trial. It is one in a barrage of examples of how the lives of the homeless are often left up to chance.

The film ends to remind us that:

skid row

From beginning to end “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” is a documentary that showcases the brilliance and resiliency of the human race. However, it reminds us that the comfort of our homes is one of our own making, that any one of us really can become homeless. We meet Danny Harris, a man at the beginning of the film, who won a silver medal in the Olympics for sprinting and became homeless on Skid Row. Life is filled with an endless amount of land-mines that must be navigated in order to continue. “Lost Angeles: Skid Row is My Home” is a documentary guaranteed to make one think of what makes life worth living and what the essence of humanity is.