I recently moved out of my apartment where I had resided for over five years. I can safely say that this place was where I've felt the most at home since moving out of my parent's house.
I was flooded with so many emotions and memories as I watched my room once filled with my belongings become empty.
Unlike so many who have left their homes in recent months because of unemployment or other financial hardships, I moved out because I needed a change. I had actually planned on moving to New York, but soon after I left my old apartment I had another change of heart. I decided I wasn't done with Los Angeles. One of my best friends was kind enough to let me stay at her place and to save some money while I sorted things out in my head and decided what to do next.
After committing to staying in Los Angeles and seeking out my next living situation, I have resided in a state of in betweens. I am fortunate that during this transition I've had a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in and clothes to keep me warm during this gentle Angeleno winter that is upon us. Others are not as fortunate. Yet even in my exceptionally privileged state of in betweens, the last few months have still taken their emotional toll.
Being without all of my possessions has been incredibly liberating, at times unsettling and profoundly humbling. But I realize now that a home isn't just a place that houses your belongings. For me at least, it is the foundation which I build my life upon. It is where I do my work, where I sleep and dream and above all it is where I feel safe. It is a physical and psychological haven from the elements that surround me.
This understanding has always informed and fueled my compassion for those who are living on the streets. Realizing that on top of all the other serious issues these people are faced with (mental illness, addiction, malnutrition, physical handicaps etc.) they are also deprived of a very fundamental sense of feeling rooted and safe. It's easy to take such a seemingly simple kind of sanctuary such as our homes for granted; but to really feel safe and at home is tremendously important to our vitality and stability as we navigate our way through life.
For all the arguments we can make about the insignificance of material possessions, few can deny the comforts of having the things we love and cherish close to us. Whether it's a scrapbook that holds memories that transport you to childhood, or a blanket your grandmother knit for you when you were born; there are certain things that we cherish even if they do not define us.
Thankfully my things are boxed up and safe in storage, but I am reminded of so many people I've met and interviewed on the streets who cannot say the same thing. They have told me countless heartbreaking stories about losing their few possessions, then regaining valuables only to lose or have them taken away all over again. Without the comforts and protection permanent shelter offers, many of those who are homeless are inevitably more vulnerable to the external elements; among them robbery, water damage or simply losing things along the way.
But my time spent filming the homeless has opened my eyes to another kind of loss that most of us who have homes are not as well acquainted with.
One afternoon while shooting, I was driving on Cahuenga and saw a police car pulled over to the side of the road. Two homeless men stood before a line of shopping carts parked up against the wall behind them. I pulled over, grabbed my camera and approached as the officer reprimanded the two men, got in his car and drove away.
When I asked what had happened, they told me that the officer had given them one hour to get rid of their shopping carts or they would be confiscated by the city's sanitation department and their belongings inside the carts thrown away. Because the shopping cart did not belong to the men, the officer had the right to confiscate it as stolen property. Both men (featured in the video below) were understandably distressed by the situation.
Not only did those carts house their belongings but the gentlemen were also watching the carts of several of their homeless friends who were nowhere to be found at the time. The men were to unload their belongings and those of their friends if they were to be saved, taking them back out and laying them on the ground where who knows how long they would remain in tact.
The men temporarily averted an unfortunate situation. As they emptied and reshuffled the contents of their carts, I began to consider how repeatedly having to deal with these kinds of trying circumstances, might begin to take their toll on a person's physical and psychological stability.
There are shopping carts that are designated expressly for the homeless, however they are not as accessible or abundant, as the shopping carts from markets, the ones that are illegal. While this issue doesn't get as much attention as other issues that enter the rather epic discussion of homelessness, perhaps it should.
We often take for granted the countless comforts that come along with having a roof over our heads. The feeling of actually being and feeling safe in one's home is more profound than I realized.
As I prepare to move into a new apartment next month, I am mixed about sorting through and unpacking boxes. It's been nice to have a single suitcase and feel light and untied to anything but I take with me a more visceral understanding and gratitude about what it means to have a place I can call home.
While I don't have a single answer to this problem or the larger issue at hand, I firmly believe deepening our compassion, awareness and understanding about the issue and those who are affected by it is a very good beginning.
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Check out the trailer for Without A Home