One of the first people I met while filming on the streets was Joby. It was a Saturday afternoon. I was driving around North Hollywood looking for homeless people to interview. This was becoming my routine.
Off of Riverside Blvd, around Lankershim on a tiny little dead end road, I spotted three people gathered around a curb. I pulled over. I was already neglecting one of the rules I had created to keep myself safe: stay on a major street where you are visible to others.
Joby, his friend Valerie and another friend of theirs, George, who was a Vietnam veteran, were excited to share their stories with me. I eagerly set up my camera and sat down on the pavement to begin the interview. Joby promptly offered me his jacket to sit on. I told him I was okay, that I didn't mind the pavement. A true gentleman, he insisted I take it, and of course I did.
As they alternated between tears and laughter, Joby, Valerie and George shared their stories with me. George who was in his mid 60's, was the oldest of the three. He had few words that day. He had just lost his son in a motorcycle accident a few days earlier. They all seemed heartbroken over the loss.
Valerie and Joby told me that they were both artists. Of course I inquired to see if they had any artwork lying around that they could show me. They explained that it was all gone, lost along the way. As one who deeply believes in arts' healing powers, I was saddened and frustrated by this information. I asked them if they had any materials to draw with. "No!" they replied in unison. So I told them I would buy them sketchbooks so they could begin to draw again.
Then it occurred to me, here are these people who have so little and are so overwhelmed in life, by an array of problems I cannot begin to fathom, and on top of it all, they can't even properly express themselves with the artistic gifts they've been given. I had never thought about it like this before.
All of these homeless people out there -- how many gifts, skills, talents, ideas, and inventions are being malnourished or simply going to waste, because for whatever reason, these people have been allowed to fall through the cracks of our society? And it's not only them who suffer from such a loss, for we too suffer in unimaginable ways, when we are deprived of such talents.
After our initial conversation, we set a date and time to meet again. I had more questions, I wanted to do more filming and I was intent on bringing them proper sketchbooks and pens to draw with. We were to meet again in the same spot, the next day at 3pm.
The following day I arrived with a big white bag from Aaron Brothers art supply store. I had brought sketchbooks and I splurged on nice pens for them. This time I was greeted by Joby, Valerie and Alex, Valerie's boyfriend.
Joby and Valerie were grateful for their sketchbooks. They wanted to take me back to the place they were temporarily calling home. I contemplated whether or not this was a good idea for a few minutes and I asked Valerie if she would be coming too. I didn't want them to think that I didn't trust them, but I also thought it would be smart to have a woman there just in case.
Joby and Alex both had wild looks in their eyes led me to have my doubts but also lured me in. Even though my mother would not approve of my decision, I felt like I had no choice. Valerie said she would come and I figured what the hell...
Joby lovingly took my hand and escorted me back down the narrow dirt path beside the freeway where I would temporarily disappear from the world I knew. I had already cultivated a kind of trust with him and felt intuitively that he would not harm me.
As I was walking down the path my girlish arachnophobia kicked in and overshadowed my other fears. I soon found I was more nervous about poison ivy and scary spiders jumping out at me than anything truly awful happening.
With my camera in one hand, and my other hand interlocked with Joby's, he guided me through the uneven terrain, helping me to keep my balance. With each step, I rambled on about my fear of brown recluses, and it was in this very vulnerable, pure, almost child-like moment, that Joby became my protector.
Home sweet home was their red tarped tent (featured in the video below). Equipped with a little seating area and some of their belongings cluttered in various spots. It was really quite lovely for what it was.
We hung out a bit more and kept talking, I continued filming. It was kind of like stopping by a friend's place on a Sunday afternoon, casual and with no pressure to say or do anything, just be.
They talked amongst themselves while I sat there observing this new and thrilling side of life being revealed to me. They were gracious hosts and treated me as if I were just one of the gang. I must say it felt nice to be included.
The short distance I traversed on that path, took me directly into their world. With a bit of fear and a lot of curiosity, I momentarily left behind the world I was comfortable in, in search of a connection to these people I had felt for so long but could not understand. There was nothing earth shattering or startling about what I saw or learned that day -- just three friends enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon together. Perhaps what was most extraordinary was simply the reminder that all people will make a home for themselves wherever they are on this earth. There is something inherently human about home.