The notable story of how Los Angeles’ skid row turned itself from a problem into a solution.
Thomas Q. Napper directed and Christine Triano wrote the narrative for this moving and inspirational story inspired by the feature film production of “The Soloist.” That narrative fiction film told the story of Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician with Julliard training played by Jamie Foxx with Robert Downey Jr., based on stories written by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez.
The fact is many of the persons living on the streets are there by virtue of conscious decision. It is not that they like living there better than being rich and living on the beach in Mexico, it is that they definitely prefer living on the street to the options that life has dealt them.
Filmed in Skid Row, Central City East, Los Angeles, California, what Los Angeles learned through several years of misguided law enforcement is that homeless communities should be looked on as exactly that, a community, as opposed to a collection of perpetrators waiting to manifest criminal activity. As the film explains, many of them were put on the streets by former Governor Ronald Reagan’s closing of many California mental institutions.
It the long run, this was a good idea, not because it saved the taxpayers money 9crime is more expensive than imprisonment but because once the individuals were out from under institutionalization, they could a process of enabling them to run their own lives. As it turned out, nobody but them knew how to run their lives and once the authorities allowed them to form a community they were able to sort out many, if not all, of their serious issues.
The movie teaches a vital lesson about the process of socialization. The lesson is that when a group of people is defined as a criminal element or as an undesirable element because they block “development” (the inner code word for gentrification and increasing rents and property values), obedient police will find ways to turn them into criminals, often by enforcing patent double standards.
Narrated by Catherine Keener, this film describes the complexities and intricacies of street life told through the eyes of eight remarkable individuals. At one time these souls were wards of the state, probably drugged to some degree, regimented and forced to live a slow death. On the street they have learned to accept the responsibilities that go with freedom. They have learned to fit their unusual mannerisms and compulsions into street life. They have learned to do what feels right for themselves while not hurting anybody else.
This alternative to criminalization that results in the socialization of persons previous thought to be incorrigible is anathema to conventional hard core law enforcement officials. However, the fact remains that when people are allowed to live unusual life styles that work for them and when police defend them from harm rather than causing them harm, the result is a community that takes care of itself better than asylums ever did.
None of the persons interviewed for the film appeared to be a practicing drug addict, although many of them had caved in to addictions in the past. These are former Olympic athletes, Harvard attorneys, accomplished musicians and scholars. There is an incredibly fine line separating these citizens from the “normal” people we think of as forming the conventional core of our society. If we use police tactics to change everybody into some perfect mold, do we really have a democracy left?
As the community stated during its defensive, united action against police harassment, “you tell us to leaver, but where do you expect us to leave to? We live on the street. If you tell us we are criminals because we sit on the street, sleep on the street and stand on the street, how do you expect us to be honest citizens?”
The fact is that if these people can be arbitrarily defined as criminals because they are solving an otherwise insolvable social problem where does that leave the rest of us? How long before we all become criminals? There is no question that street life is complicated in its causes and in its solutions.
What we know is that street people will not be helped when we arbitrarily define them as criminals. The complex problem is not amenable to such a simplistic solution. As Kevin Cohen (street name K.K) said, “Life… Life is a conundrum. I can promise you that.”
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Directed by: Thomas Q. Napper
Written by: Christine Triano
Starring: Kevin Cohen, Manuel Compito, Danny Harris
Release Date: March 19, 2013
MPAA: Not Rated
Run Time: 77 minutes