In the United States, every night, an average of seven hundred thousand people are homeless. The statistics are formidable…this number is larger than the current population of Milwaukee. Austin, Memphis, Boston, Fort Worth, and Washington D.C. all have populations lower than this number.
“No Home” was filmed on a winter’s night in Milwaukee. I traveled with the outreach van for Health Care for the Homeless, looking for homeless people on an evening that dropped below freezing. In pockets all about the city, under bridges, in alleys, behind low walls and hedgerows, in run down industrial areas we might not travel to, parks, and openly on the sidewalks before our Milwaukee County Courthouse, human beings tried to sleep, tried to make it through one more night. Some huddled under cardboard. Some had pulled trash bags up over their legs and wrapped about them. One man lay uncovered, directly on the cement.
My short video and installation doesn’t do much, in itself to help resolve this problem.
It is one small lantern helping illuminating a problem…that is all. Homelessness will go away when we direct our attention to the problem collectively, when we “get the picture” of the scale and nature of the problem and decide, as a nation, that this is completely unacceptable and must be eradicated. Homelessness will come to an end when we prioritize the health and the worth and the freedom of all of our citizens.
Huge disasters that arise “out of nowhere” startle us and capture the attention of our media. Katrina or 9/11 or the wildfires in California can elicit strong response from our citizens and from our leadership. Homelessness, although it overwhelms these disasters in scale, is perpetual, is not a “new story” and, perhaps due in large part to the stigmas associated with ‘homelessness”, fails to capture our attention, fails to elicit a strong media response and, fails to touch our hearts. Homelessness is ugly…we don’t want to think about it.
My suggestion: go to downtown Milwaukee and invite a homeless person to lunch. Talk to them. Ask them how they became homeless, what the “system” is like for homeless people in Milwaukee, ask them if they are protected by police, and ask them how they survive. Learn about homelessness from the homeless. Then contact your congressmen and tell them they should take care of these citizens. Vote for candidates who seem most attuned to the needs of all Americans. And …in the winter, drop off some clothes or blankets to your local shelter or relief agency. They will be used.