Friday, November 4, 2011

Without A Home

Without A Home is a documentary about homelessness now hitting the DVD market. From the outset, I must state, I have been homeless and I have worked with the homeless for over 30 years now. I also pastor a church that serves as a primary point of ministry, The Homeless, not just in a serving way but a communal becoming a part of the family way. It is with that in mind that I give my input to this documentary. I had a measure of expectation and hope for this documentary which has received a great deal of praise, and while I recommend the film, it is with some hesitation. I have some fear and concern the film could perpetuate the stereotypical attitude of the homeless.

The film starts with young filmmaker Rachel Fleischer taking her camera and following several homeless people, recording the experiences. The desire to help is something many have, knowing what to do, and how to do it is something else all together. One of the positive attributes of this film is we see this lack of knowledge and the learning experience begin to take place in young Fleischer. We see that the desire to help is not always the end all to providing help, we also see that sometimes, if not careful, there is a price to pay. Don’t get me wrong, I admire Fleischer’s dedication and desire to help, I am not so certain though that the representations we see of the homeless portrayed on screen are actually all that accurate of a general perception of all homeless persons, the featured individuals in the documentary certainly fall into the category of what for some is stereotypical expectations. Of course Fleischer focuses on the ‘Skid Row’ section of Los Angeles, in reality though this population group does not represent all of the homeless population across the country. While I don’t think Fleischer assumes to present this as so, there will be those who see this documentary that bases their generalizations about the homeless on this specific group which consist of a high percentage of mentally ill and drug and alcohol abusers. While there are large percentages of these groups among the homeless, the dynamics are changing.

As a documentary, Without A Home does a decent, but not great job in its technical merits. There are at times the things that could be expected from a young film maker, poor lighting, less than adequate sound, and editing that appears at times jumpy. There is also some disunity in story at times, but overall, even though the film is lacking in some ways, (it certainly isn’t a big budget film) it makes up for it in some of the stories told on film. In that story there could have been more insight and hope presented. I was left wondering, what the purpose of the film was? Was it to educate about homelessness? If so, it only gives a partial history, one that is dated over the last 3 years especially since many of the homeless now, at least that I am working with, are homeless due to the economy, foreclosures, and more. There is actually less substance abuse on the streets than some may imagine, and while mental illness plays a role for many, it is far from all. So if wanting to provide insight to the homeless, Without A Home was somewhat lacking in the total picture it presents.

If the purpose of Without A Home was to provide hope for the homeless I found the stories, while real and relevant at times, it could be discouraging and difficult for many of the homeless seeing it.

One of the things the film does a good job of is presenting reality, especially in the case of one subject matter, to which the film is dedicated. Mike a former heroin addict is introduced as a recovering addict who now advocates for the homeless. We see the totality of his story, from recovery to relapse, and from a person of impact to tragedy. There are other characters, some 6 which the film follows, but I challenge there is another character in the story whose story is quite interesting, that is of the documentary filmmaker Rachel Fleischer. We see her eagerness to get involved, and ultimately her realization that she can only do so much.

I am moved by a film that has as a point of story, a filmmaker who has the heart to care and do something for the population of people she is cataloging in her film. I am moved that someone is willing to address the ongoing need of the poor and the homeless. I cannot look at something like this and not think about the mandates of my faith, and the message of Jesus to love all, especially the command to love and serve the poor and needy, the orphan and the widow. Some go so far as to use Matthew 25:31-46 from the Bible as an illustration that we will ultimately be judged by what we have done or not done for ‘The Least of These.’ There is no doubt as to the heart and concern of Rachel Fleischer, but there are lessons to learn and hopefully the film provides a catalyst where others can learn.

One of the things I hope we learn is the difference between passion and knowledge on how to help the poor. As I regress back to my experiences, I must state, I am speaking personally here based on my own experiences. One of the greatest dangers in serving, ‘The Least of These,’ is an enabling attitude along with a method of service that seems to be provided and in some situations, is expected. One component of my faith is the hope it provides, a hope that doesn’t just start in Heaven, but starts now. Don’t take me wrong, there are those who need hope now due to their situation, but there are others that need to be helped and encouraged to go after their dreams, whatever their dreams may be. Helping one accomplish those dreams may be easy if the dream is to find peace, yet, for those who have dreams of independence, of more than being on the streets, of escaping addiction, there is the need to walk along side of, be there with, on an ongoing basis, learning to access the appropriate resources in the community. Of course those resources are difficult to obtain at times, especially when those providing those services are over worked and have become disillusioned to both the system they work within, and towards those they are blessed to serve. I am not sure that this needed understanding is presented in Without A Home. I am not so sure because the true place where home is (the heart) is not really addressed as it could have been. It is when finding that place called home; within the heart that progress can be made. Then one can share in family and community.

I reluctantly recommend this movie; for individuals who watch it and are moved to help the homeless, get to know them, try to understand their hearts. In the end the director of this documentary has done that; I will follow up though, watch from a distance, and hope and pray the homeless she touched in the filming of this documentary will discover the hope and possibilities that exist, the truth is, they deserve it.

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