Filming the documentary Here Comes That Dreamer could not have been done unless I was living on the streets. Narration does not tell the story. Visuals do. In the midst of filming I can duplicate the sights I see and can feel the emotions being told through the lens. It’s real, organic. I get lost in the mix. The magic happening through the lens becomes my world. Sometimes it feels like a carnival ride, a roller coaster creating a seemingly impossible landscape. No way off the ride, just got to hang on and wait it out.
Sometimes what I am filming becomes a land mark of sorts. Or a historical happening. No where else in the universe at any given time will we see it again. It can easily become a lost moment. I have to show what it was and how it can happen. And most important of all, I have to hope, even if it is a horrific scene, it’s impact will help us all move forward to a better place or understanding.
This is the idea I had before I hit the streets to do this work, although not articulated until this moment. While I’m out there I surrender and look for feelings, emotions and grand moments.
When I tell people I am a photographer they ask what is your favorite thing to photograph. “Whatever is happening in front of me,” is my standard answer.
Photographing the homeless on the streets of Tucson and San Diego and living with them like wilderness roommates has allowed me to look from the inside of the wild, amazing and captive landscapes of street life. These experiences have given me a new perspective. It is my contention that everyone should live on the streets for a month at least. This experience would allow the current homeless population to be visible, to be human, to have dignity and be respected. Visibility, humanity, dignity and respect are key components to living well. Allowing others these important attributes is a key to being civilized, to being descent to one another and understanding how to be better humans.
To often the people on the streets are considered animals, wild untamed beings that have no excuse for their life style. They become invisible and dispensable. It has always been this way. It’s always been easier for societies to hate and create monsters.
I am happy to report, however, the stigma associated with homelessness is diminishing. This is the take away I have from all the work and time I’ve spent living in the homeless communities.
And now is a good time to introduce the term houselessness.
The best definition I have found comes from Dogood, https://dogoodmultnomah.org/blog/why-do-we-say-houseless.
“Home is beyond a singular location. Home is their community. Home is a social connection. Home is memories. It’s a car. It’s the streets. It’s friends and family. Home is so much more than a physical space. By calling individuals experiencing houselessness “homeless” you may be stripping away that connection.”
The stigma is diminishing partly because 3o million Americans are facing life on the street scenarios. Estimates that of the 110 million Americans who live in rental housing, at least 30 million are at risk of eviction by the end of September according to NPR, https://www.npr.org/2020/08/10/900766719/millions-of-americans-are-in-danger-of-being-evicted-during-pandemic.
America has not seen this possible scenario expect for the years of the great depression. In 1932 the country was mired in the depths of the Great Depression and some 15 million people (more than 20 percent of the U.S. population at the time) were unemployed.
Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession. The COVID-19 outbreak and the economic downturn it engendered swelled the ranks of unemployed Americans by more than 14 million, from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May 2020 according to the Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/11/unemployment-rose-higher-in-three-months-of-covid-19-than-it-did-in-two-years-of-the-great-recession/
Oops. So sorry. I have sort of strayed away from my original thesis: filming the homeless effectively. So, let me bottom line this. There is a solution to homelessness. I learned about it along with thousands of others throughout America.
Since the 2000’s tiny home communities designed exclusively for homeless people have been created in America. In 2004, Dignity Village opened on a permanent site in Portland, promising self-built shelter for 60 people per night. Quixote Village, is a 30-home community that opened on Christmas Eve in Olympia, Washington in 2013. The list goes on. https://www.greenmatters.com/home/2018/03/30/Z24iHke/tiny-homes-homelessness.
Here in Tucson Pastor Jon McLane has created a tiny house environment for houses veterans. It is up and running, but not fully. The Veteran Rescue Mission has yet to get county approval and they need to submit a development plan for the land. All of this is detailed in my documentary Here Comes That Dreamer.
And this is the future for houselessness. A sure fix.
The solution, however, does face huge obstacles. Funding, land use, community opposition, bureaucracy and the list goes on. Probably the most challenging part of getting the tiny house solution to really blast off is the age old stigma on being homeless. We all know what that is. We grew up with the sayings and were always told, “You don’t want to be a bum and end up on the streets.”