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.
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.