Review: Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County a heart breaker on HBO

Tonight sees "Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County" air on HBO. This is the sixth HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, who made the 2002’s Emmy winner “Journeys with George” and 2004’s “Diary of a Political Tourist.”  <P></P> <P>She subsequently spotlighted evangelical Christians in “Friends of God:  A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi” and “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” followed by last year’s “Right America:  Feeling Wronged – Some Voices from the Campaign Trail.”</P> <P>“Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County” is the first Pelosi film to not be steeped in the two subjects that polarize: Religion and politics.</P> <P>But tonight it’s a heartbreak, and shows just how tough many working Americans have it these days. If you have<STRONG> </STRONG><A href=""><STRONG>read</STRONG></A> the excellent book, "Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich, you know exactly what I am talking about.</P> <P>We meet several children living en masse with their families inside motels, four or more people plus their belongings stuffed in one room, with one bathroom and a crappy microwave acting as the "kitchen."  Beds are infested with bedbugs; there’s no healthy food to eat, and no safety nets afforded to anyone.</P> <P>The kids have to grow up very fast, and “Homeless” shows that they try to make their fun still in the most pathetic surroundings, inside dumpsters, amidst trash, on air conditioners as ledges, and inside empty trailers.                     </P> <P>In Orange County, Cal., among some wealthy enclaves, some kids of the working poor live with their families in single motel rooms, and attend a special school for transient children while playing in concrete parking lots in the shadow of the world’s most famous amusement park.  </P> <P>Hard times made harder by lay-offs and cut backs.  America now sees an all-time high in the homelessness among children of the working poor.</P> <P>Pelosi explores this bleak and stressful world of children who reside in discounted motels within walking distance of Disneyland, living in limbo as their families struggle to survive. </P> <P>Even filmmaker Morgan Spurlock brought this working poor conundrum to light in his brilliant "30 Days" series, as he and his girlfriend went undercover for 30 days to live on minimum wage jobs. They didn’t fare so well.</P> <P>The parents of motel kids are hard workers who don’t earn enough to own or rent homes.  Hand-to-mouth existence and week by week rentals in motels is their life, hoping against hope for an opportunity that might allow them to move up in the O.C.</P> <P>The toll of this lifestyle is severe.  Though the community tries to provide adequate education and food, the day-to-day lives of motel kids are often a numbing exercise in frustrating constraints and ever-diminishing expectations.</P> <P>No easy answers here.</P> <P>To read an interview with Pelosi: <A href=""><STRONG>HERE</STRONG></A> </P> <P>You can help out:<STRONG> </STRONG><A href=""><STRONG>HERE</STRONG></A> and <A href=""><STRONG>HERE</STRONG></A> and <A href=""><STRONG>HERE</STRONG></A></P> <P>From HBO</P> <P>Interview subjects in tonight’s film include:</P> <P>Rudee, age six, sleeps between her parents in a queen-size motel bed and says the worst place she ever slept was the bushes, which was “embarrassing.”  Though her father works as a mechanic, apartment rent in Orange County is too high for the family to afford.  Still, they don’t consider moving, and are content to pay $870 a month to live at the motel.  Noting that all her brothers and sisters own houses, Rudee’s mother looks forward to better times, saying, “We’re survivors.  The economy’s going down, but we’re not feeling it, because we are already there.”</P> <P>Deanna and Dylan, ages seven and nine, moved into a motel with the family of a friend after their mother died.  While Deanna tap dances to pass the time, Dylan dreams of becoming a “football player or Spider-Man.”  He often climbs and swings on motel banisters, defying a neighboring resident the kids call “the wicked witch” because she yells at them for making noise.  Asked if he has one wish for the summer, Dylan answers, “To re-do my life.”</P> <P>Like any brothers, nine-year-old Dilan and seven-year-old Ben have their share of outbursts, but living in a single motel room with two other siblings and their parents amplifies those incidents.  Their mom works night shifts at a hospital, leaving their dad, who recently lost his job, to take care of the kids when they’re not in school.  At Project Hope, their ten-year-old sister Celine shares the same classroom with her brothers, because grades two through four are combined.  The teacher tells Celine she “doesn’t have to be the big sister” in class, but she finds it difficult to focus.</P> <P>Friends Brenda and Meygan, both age 11, live in separate rooms, but share a common affliction:  bedbugs.  “Only some” of the rooms are bedbug-free, the girls note, adding that management often takes infested beds outside, only to reuse them a few days later.</P> <P>The Brewster family, a widow and her four kids, shares a single motel room with their four small dogs.  The mother works in the parking department of Disneyland, and doesn’t make enough to rent an apartment, despite help from 16-year-old Allie, who works at McDonald’s.  Zach, age 11, recently appeared in juvenile court for burglary.  His latest “stunt,” damaging motel property, cost the family its room.  Asked where they’re moving, Zach responds, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”</P> <P>Gabriel, age seven, has grown up with violence.  The class tough-guy with a Mohawk haircut, he is seen attending the funeral of his mother’s boyfriend, who lived with the family in the motel before he was beaten and killed.  Asked by a teacher, “What are your rights?,” he replies, “The right to remain silent.”</P> <P>Cassidy, age eight, is a shy blonde with cheerleading aspirations, though she already seems beaten down by life.  It doesn’t help when she’s forced to shave her head – to get rid of lice.</P> <P>Kiera, age nine, is a conscientious child who hopes to become a doctor.  She and her mom share one room with a family who has a newborn baby.  Though Kiera is “scared” of living in the midst of violence and drugs, she is the pride of her mom, who says tearfully that the family’s motto is “Never give up.”</P> <P>HBO Documentary Films has consistently featured a provocative new special every Monday night at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT) through Aug. 9.  Other July presentations include:  “No One Dies in Lily Dale” (July 5); “A Small Act” (July 12); and “Lucky” (July 19).</P> <P>Other HBO playdates:  July 29 (3:30 p.m., 12:30 a.m.) and 31 (1:30 p.m.), and Aug. 4 (9:00 a.m.) and 8 (4:00 p.m.)</P> <P>HBO2 playdates:  July 28 (8:00 p.m.) and Aug. 2 (11:30 a.m.) and 29 (2:30 p.m.)               <BR>                </P><EMBED src= width=560 height=340 type=application/x-shockwave-flash allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always"></EMBED>Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.

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