It's the seedy side of life-the part of life you pretend doesn't exist. At first, I only noticed the one man I wrote about last Fall, the one passed out in front of my local Wawa. But now I've started to notice them every day when I go to pick up my husband at the train station. Some days, they just stand at the traffic light holding a sign that no one can read. They know it doesn't matter that no one can read them because no one looks at them anyway. We look away. We look away from the signs. We look away from the person holding the sign. We wait for the light to turn green while we look away. Some days, I roll down my window and empty the change cup in the car for them. Other days, the days I get to the station a bit early, they sometimes get more bold. They knock on my car window. They tell me a sob story. I buy it. I give them more change.
Who is this helping? Is this helping me? Do I really feel better about myself? Do I really feel better that I handed over a few cents to someone who claimed to need it? Do they really need it? What will they go do with it? Will it buy them drugs? Will it buy them a meal? Will it really help them? What should I do? Is there a solution?
I know I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Just the other day, I met up with an old friend from out of town. I met her new husband for the very first time. We sat at the Four Seasons lobby in Center City for some time chatting away when we decided to go for a walk and a bite to eat. We began a short walk from the hotel to the Whole Foods. As we walked, my friend's husband took note of all the homeless people. We walked on chattering away. We each grabbed something to drink and a bite to eat at the Whole Foods Store. As we were heading back to their hotel, I saw that my friend's husband was carrying a bag full of sandwiches he had just purchased. He distributed them to a few of the homeless people. It was a kindness that I admired in this person that was new to me. But who was it helping? There were at least fifty homeless people we passed on that two block walk. He couldn't feed them all. Even if he did, it was one meal-one day. I just felt the hopelessness of it all.
Questions raced through my mind. Shouldn't we be teaching them how to fish instead of giving them the fish? Do they even want to be taught? How do we really help? How do we make a difference? How do we actually solve the problem?
The very next day, I received an e-mail from Eren Gulfidan, the creative director of a production and creative consulting agency trying to promote a new independent film called "Sugar" released by Traverse Media. It's a story based on the true life experiences of its filmmaker, Rotimi Rainwater who was homeless himself for many years. She wanted to know if I would be willing to write about the film. I said yes.
It's a beautiful film with a superb acting ensemble of both professional actors and actual homeless people. Known actors in the film include Shenae Grimes (90210, Degrassi), Corbin Bleu (Hight School Musical, and Dancing With The Stars 2013), Marshall Allman (Prison Break), Austin Williams (Good Shepherd), Angus Macfadyen (Braveheart, Saw3), and Wes Studi(Avatar, Heat, Last of the Mohicans) just to name a few.
The story follows a fictitious young girl, Sugar, who is homeless. The emotional rollercoaster begins early on with Sugar's reflections.
"We're the forgotten ones out here. Most of you don't even see us."
The film follows Sugar and her homeless friends as they navigate forming their own kind of family living on the streets of Los Angeles. In a way, it plays like a dramatic mainstream feature film. It could almost be called a fictional documentary, if there is such a thing. What it is not, is a lecture. It doesn't preach to you. If it weren't based on such a horrific reality, you could almost call it entertainment. But it certainly wasn't created to be entertaining. It wasn't created to preach or to entertain. It was created to bring awareness not only to homelessness in America, but to homeless youth in America.
"Imagine how f.....d up it was where they came from for them to be out here," says Sugar of her fellow young homeless "family" members.
The film tears at your heartstrings. It forces you to ask all the questions I was asking when I saw the homeless guy I wrote about, when I see the train station homeless every day, and when I saw the homeless on our short walk from the swanky Four Seasons to the upscale Whole Foods.
Towards the end of the film the homeless characters clash with some of the community "do gooders."
"Everyone says they wanna help, but nobody really does anything. I wish someone really was there to help," says Sugar.
By the end of the film, I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed being forced to face all the questions the film left with me. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. I was overwhelmed by the thought of how I could help.
I'm like the rest of you, I know I am. I'm not going to turn my life upside down in an attempt to change the homeless problem in our country. I'm but one person. I have work, a family, social activities, and my share of giving back. I don't know what the solution is. I don't know where to start. So I do nothing and feel the knot tighten just a little bit each time I see a homeless person.
What I do know, is that the film, to me, didn't seem to have the intent on making me call myself into action. It didn't seem to want to guilt me into submission. What it did do, was raise my awareness of the issue. What it did do, was make me question what can be done and who can do it. I highly recommend Americans see this film. I recommend you see it for the purpose in which it was made-to bring awareness to the problem.
Mr. Rainwater is currently continuing his mission to help the homeless with a new documentary, "Lost In America," which is currently in production. I look forward to seeing the completed documentary and hope that it will answer some of the questions that "Sugar" brought to light, yet left unanswered.
Where to see "Sugar":
Facts on Youth Homelessness:
-5,000 homeless youth die each year in America. (There were 2,196 military deaths in the entire war in Afghanistan.)
-On a single night in January of 2013, 118,000 youth, under 25, in the U.S. were sheltered and 43,000 were without shelter.
-On that same night, homeless youth, under 18, made up 30% of the sheltered population in the U.S.
Learn more about the movie and cause here.