“The Way Home”; Homelessness in America

On December 4th Season one of the short documentary series “The Way Home” will be launched. Acclaimed filmmakers Don Hardy, Camille Servan-Schreiber and Shawn Dailey are behind the series which was made possible with support from Kaiser Permanente whose mission since 1945 has been to provide high quality affordable health care services and to improve health of its members and the communities that they serve.

Sometimes brief is best as get into too much detail you risk losing audiences particularly when the subject matter is unpleasant. None of the four episodes I saw was over 30 minutes. The four episodes I saw were “How Did We Get Here”,” The Most Vulnerable’, “The Invisible” and “The California Dream”.

The focus on this series is California. Ironically “California Dreaming” by the Mama’s a Papa’s doesn’t fit the bill here. California has the largest population of homeless people in the United States. It might now be referred to a “California Nightmare”.

Of course as Canadians we might hold our heads up high and say this is an American problem but looking at the tent cities springing up in Toronto and the endless discussion about how to solve the problem has lead nowhere but hot air. The tent cities are still here.

As a commentator says the homeless problem in the United States has a ground zero of the Bay Area (Oakland and San Francisco) and Los Angeles. California has seen a double digit increase in homelessness in 4 of the past 5 years due to chronic underbuilding in the past 40 years, the movement from the suburbs into the city making housing more expensive and the shortage of construction workers creating higher building costs.

The American attitude of individualism combined with Regan era social cuts exacerbates the problem. Individualism blames the individual for homelessness not the societal weaknesses that contribute to it. A surge of veterans with mental health issues not even recognized by Veterans Administration has not helped.

US federal support of housing is 30% of what it was in the 1980’s. There is also the unpleasant aspect of racism of which we have seen far too much of in The United States in the dying days of the Trump administration. Blacks make up 12% of the population in the United States but account for 40% of the homelessness population. Somewhat akin to COVID mortality statistics.

Homeless people are older, sicker, subject to COVID and environmental perils.

Despite the doom and gloom there are community organizations partnering with charities, landlords and corporations to rectify the problem with quick access to housing as opposed to  the waiting lists to get on the waiting lists.

The dignity of landing affordable housing is certainly measurable with the sheer joy, gratitude and improvement in life. Simple access to a kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom has revolutionary effects on the life of a homeless person. I think it is called dignity and pride.

These are factors most of us take for granted and should be thankful for. But what does that do for the homeless people? I am hoping this series shows us what we can do to help. As one homeless person said in sort of a capitalist fashion was that she appreciated the “investment” in her.

The United States and Canada have shown some determination to deal with the COVID pandemic flushing the system with cash for the unemployed, mentally distressed and frontline workers. Can these governments expand the sense of urgency for the homeless?

Given even those on the margins barely hanging on to pay their rent have to sacrifice food and when the food is gone the lodging goes.

Season 1 launches on December 4th on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

You can see the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBytPNmjz5g

On Amazon Prime this series is free otherwise you’ll have to pay per episode or via a season pass.

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