Portrait of a Homeless Philosopher

Martin

Directed by Donal Moloney (2018)

Film Review

Martin is a profoundly moving portrait of a homeless man befriended by Irish filmmaker Donal Moloney. Martin Holt, who lives under a bridge, considers himself much better off than people who live in houses – mainly because he has no debt, obligations or stress.

He maintains happiness is an illusion. Life, for him, is the simple pleasures of feeding pigeons, reading books at the library and enjoying seasonal changes.

The cinematography is stunning.

Homeless in Hawaii

Homeless in Hawaii

First Documentary (2017)

Film Review

Despite recent publicity about the high level of homelessness in Los Angeles, it turns out that Hawaii is the state with the highest rate of homelessness.

This documentary begins by exploring local efforts to criminalize homelessness via their “sit and lie” laws (which make it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalk). Hawaii Kai, the second richest post code in the US, has a residents vigilante group patrolling the streets for homeless people to report to the police.

A quote by one of their wealthier members is absolutely priceless: “You can’t have a society where one factor just takes and takes and takes.” Ironically she is referring to homeless people – even though her comment is far more pertinent to the wealthy elite she belongs to.

The film goes on to profile a campaign by Hawaii state senator Josh Green to use state Medicaid funds to enable doctors to prescribe “housing” for homeless patients. At present Hawaii spends more than a billion a year on emergency medical care for the homeless (for hepatitis, chronic infections and other conditions linked to homelessness). Green argues that millions could be saved by preventing these patients from becoming homeless in the first place.

In the last segment filmmakers visit an extremely well-organized, self-governing homeless tent city one hour from Honolulu.

Why Nearly 1% of New Zealanders Are Homeless

Who Owns New Zealand Now?

Bryan Bruce (2017)

Film Review

At present, New Zealand has the worst rate of homelessness in the OECD. In 2016, 41,000 Kiwis (nearly 1%) were homeless. Half of this number were families with children. This documentary examines the forces behind New Zealand’s homeless epidemic and potential solutions.

The film is highly critical of the neoliberal reforms in the 1980s that transformed New Zealand from a regulated economy to a so-called “market” economy, leading to low wages and soaring inequality. However it focuses mainly on the role of foreign investors, who have driven up housing costs by speculating in New Zealand real estate. Because the government no longer keeps data on the New Zealand property sold to overseas buyers, filmmakers had to go to researchers at the University of British Columbia to get a rough idea about the extent of foreign investment in New Zealand real estate.

As for potential solutions, Who Owns New Zealand Now suggests bringing back the State Advances loan program, (operating in New Zealand from the the early 1930s to the late 1960s), in which the government issued money directly (rather than borrowing it from banks) that Kiwis could borrow to purchase homes. It also examines measures other countries have adopted to discourage foreign speculators from driving up housing costs.

First and foremost the government needs to keep good data on New Zealand real estate being sold offshore. Secondly they need to discourage foreign real estate sales either by implementing a foreign buyers surtax, as Hong Kong and British Columbia do, or charging all buyers a stamp duty tax, as Australia, Canada and the UK do, and/or a capital gains tax when real estate is sold.

Among other reforms advocated in the documentary are a greater restriction in immigration levels, a return to state-funded mortgages and increased government support for cooperative housing, long term lease rentals, construction of smaller, more affordable, family friendly homes and most importantly a living wage for all Kiwis.

Owing to the failure of “the market” to accommodate their housing needs, at present approximately 1/3 of the New Zealand population requires state supported housing.

25 Years Among the Poorest Children in America

Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

by Jonathan Kozol

Crown Publishers (2012)

Book Review

Unlike Kozol’s prior books, which focus on the abysmal condition of inner city schools, Fire in the Ashes follows the families of specific children Kozol has befriended and their disastrous living conditions. The families he describes are either those he encountered at the Martinique Hotel homeless shelter in midtown Manhattan or those he met through an after school program at St Ann’s Episcopal Church in Mott Haven.

With a media annual income of $17,000 for a family of five, Mott Haven is the poorest neighborhood in the South Bronx and the poorest congressional district in the US. Official unemployment (which doesn’t count those who have given up and quit looking) is 14%.

The book poignantly describes the brutal living conditions the children and their families confront, including chronic malnutrition, chronic asthma (from asbestos and incinerators), sexual exploitation of mothers by shelter guards, grooming by gangs and drug dealers, untreated parental mental illness, repeated episodes of homelessness and overcrowded classrooms and schools (many of which have lost funding to private charter schools).

Kozol follows the children of eight African American and Hispanic families from primary school through adulthood, as they struggle with social service and educational systems that have virtually abandoned them.

Some of the children he befriends graduate from high school (and even college) and end up in long term employment. Others drop out and are swallowed up by the criminal justice system. In each case, the children who succeed do so because someone (a teacher, social worker, pastor or Kozol himself) offers financial assistance to ensure they received the educational support they needed.

Although Kozol (with the help of readers and supporters) has set up an Education Action Fund to assist students from desperately poor racially segregated neighborhoods like Mott Haven, he argues against this type of individual intervention as a long term solution.

The real answer, he maintains, is to provide public schools in neighborhoods like Mott Haven, with the best educational funding (instead of the worst), the smallest classes (at present most classes have over 30 pupils), and the best prepared and best paid teachers (instead of the least experienced, most poorly paid).

Co-housing: One Solution to the Housing Crisis

Big Cities Cooperative Housing

KCET (2016)

Big Cities Cooperative Housing is a short documentary about co-housing experiments in Seoul South Korea and Lyons France.

In Seoul, where 70% of the population live in high rise apartment buildings, three families have pooled resources to buy a three story house. In addition to communal cooking and social space, each family has private living space. There is also a communal vegetable garden.

The “vertical village in Lyon was first build in 2005 by a group of families seeking a non-materialistic lifestyle – who found themselves priced out of the property market. The first housing cooperative in France, it’s been the inspiration for many similar co-housing projects in Europe and Quebec, as well as French legal framework to recognize cooperative ownership.

In France, removal of residential property from the speculation-ridden real estate market has been an important benefit of co-housing.

The video can be viewed for free at Big Cities Cooperative Housing

Homelessness: The Low Income Housing Scandal

Poverty in America

Frontline (2017)

Film Review

Poverty in America is about the massive corruption scandal behind homelessness and the dearth of affordable housing for low income Americans.

Despite the nearly ten years that have passed since the 2008 economic crisis, 2.5 million Americans are made homeless through home eviction every year. The limited stock of affordable housing has no way of absorbing this many new renters. This, in turn, drives up rents at a time when real wages are decreasing. In many cities, families are forced to pay over 50% of their income in rent – a precarious situation leaving them one family emergency away from the streets.

This documentary focuses on two grossly inadequate federal programs dedicated to increasing access to affordable housing. The first is the Section 8 voucher program enacted in 1968. Under this program, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awards vouchers to low income renters that pay the different between the rent a landlord charges and the rent a tenant can afford based on income.

There are currently 2 million Americans on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers and only 25 percent will ever receive vouchers. The filmmakers follow three women who have waited six years or longer to qualify for Section 8 vouchers. None of them can find a landlord willing to accept their voucher within the 90 day limit they are given.

The second federal program Frontline explores is one in which the IRS allocates tax credits to states to grant to developers – who, in turn, sell the credits to investors. An entire tax credit industry has grown up around this scheme. Owing to inadequate IRS monitoring (only seven companies have been audited in 29 years), the scheme has been plagued by bribery and kickback scandals.

In Florida, for example, developers routinely cheat the program by over inflating the cost of development projects and either pocketing the difference of siphoning it off to shell companies (including one in Costa Rico specifically created for this purpose).

Despite heroic efforts of a handful of Department of Justice attorneys and Senator (R) Charles Grassley from Iowa, there seems to be little interest on the part of federal or state authorities to end this corruption. The IRS and HUD declined to be interviewed for this program.

More Babies Die in Cleveland than in North Korea, Sri Lanka, Albania and Guatemala

Behind America’s Infant Mortality Crisis

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

Since the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton eliminated Aid For Dependent Children (AFDC), the US has enjoyed infant mortality rates among the highest in the world. Rust belt Midwestern cities lead the US in infant mortality. The loss of steel, auto and other manufacturing to third world sweatshops has virtually crushed many of these cities, leaving massive unemployment – particularly among African Americans.

Cleveland is the US city with the highest percentage of babies dying during the first year of life – with an infant mortality greater than third world countries like North Korea, Albania, Sri Lanka and Guatemala.

Trying to identify the cause of Cleveland’s skyrocketing infant mortality, filmmakers interview African American mothers and expectant mothers and neonatal specialists. The neonatologists identify prematurity as the number one cause of infant deaths. Factors that contribute to mothers delivering prematurely include homelessness and lack of access to healthy food (or money to pay for it) and prenatal care. Ohio is one of the states where Republican legislators declined federal funds to expand Medicaid (which pays for prenatal care) to the working poor.

The neonatologists also point out the false economy of this ideological stinginess. Ohio’s Medicaid program spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to keep premature babies alive in state-of-the-art neonatal ICUs – it would cost taxpayers far less to prevent prematurity by ensuring expectant mothers have warm housing, healthy food and prenatal care.