How to Be Homeless in Japan
Our Human Planet (2018)
This two-part documentary focuses on homelessness in the Japanese city of Osaka. When the Japanese economy collapsed in the 1990s, many older workers lost their jobs. Last year Osaka (pop 19 million) had 18,000 homeless, mostly men. It’s easier for women who lose their jobs to return to live with family.
Part One (How to be Homeless in Japan) focuses on an 63-year-old man who makes a living collecting aluminum cans to sell at a recycling center. His work day starts before dawn, and he makes roughly $8 a day. In Osaka, one of the most expensive cities in the world, this earns him two meals of day old rice and fish, a cup of tea and a cup of sake. His spends his afternoons in the library reading.
Part Two (Japanese Homeless Fight Back) focuses on organizing efforts by Osaka’s homeless to protect themselves and better meet their needs. In addition to setting up an immaculate tent city on the grounds of a national monument, a number of them run a charity that uses expired supermarket food to provide two hot meals a week for all Osaka’s street people.
It also features a march Osaka’s homeless organized to protest the death of a homeless man kicked to death by unemployed youth.
False Confessions: How Innocent People Confess to Crime in the US
Al Jazeera (2019)
This documentary is about powerful psychological techniques American cops use to pressure innocent suspects into making false confessions. It also interviews public interest attorneys who take on the arduous work of legally exonerating prisoners whose convictions result from false confessions. More than 25% of all wrongful convictions that are overturned are based on false confessions.
One of the most common tactics American police use to extract false confessions is to lie to suspects – usually by claiming evidence that conclusively establishes their guilt. In most countries, it’s illegal to lie to suspects in this way.
The documentary examines three convictions based on false confessions that have been successfully overturned. One, the infamous Central Part 5 case (see See Central Park 5: A Classic Case of Racist Law Enforcement ), was only overturned when the real perpetrator stepped forward and claimed responsibiliy. The oldest suspect in the Central Park 5 case spent 13 years in adult prison (including four years in solitary confinement) before he being proven innocent.
The documentary can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed friend until April 10 at the Al Jazeera website: False Confessions
Hard Earned – Episodes 5 and 6
Al Jazeera (2015)
The final episodes of Hard Earned (“Fight for Fifteen” and “New Beginnings”) reveal mostly positive outcomes for the five families – in part due to their resourcefulness and in part (in my view) to extremely good luck.
Chicago: DJ loses his union job because it requires a car and he can’t afford the expense and upkeep. He finds a new job as field director for a voter mobilization campaign.
Montgomery: The couple finally find a house and mortgage they can afford and refurbish it to enable Elizabeth’s parents to move into their basement. They have been paying the $1700 mortgage on her parents’ home since her father developed cancer. Jose finally passes his math class and starts a part-time internship at a radio station to supplement his full time job at the courthouse.
Silicon valley: Hilton quits his Google job after he learns enough English to pass a food handlers exam. However he is forced to take a second job as a busboy to pay their medical bills and higher housing expenses (they have moved out of the garage into a house they share with another couple). His girlfriend takes a minimum wage job at a market.
Milwaukee: Percy finally lands a full time maintenance job that pays $11.25 and hour, and his wife, who has severe arthritis in her knees, is finally able to retire.
Evergreen Park: Emilia finally finds a good-paying waitress job and receives additional income from speaking tours about her struggle with drug and alcohol recovery.
For earlier episodes see Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV That Depicts Reality and Reality TV: More Truth About the American Working Class
Hard Earned – Episodes 3 and 4
Al Jazeera (2015)
Hard Earned episodes 3 and 4 (“Minimum Wage” and “Dreams Deferred”) follow the families introduced in the first two episodes (see Reality TV That Depicts Reality) as they make strenuous efforts to improve their life situation.
Chicago: DJ gets fed up with ongoing racial harassment (from his supervisors) he experiences at Walgreen’s and thinks strongly of joining the military. Fortunately his family dissuades him. He quits his Walgreen’s job and becomes a union organizer for the Fight for Fifteen Campaign* – where he makes twice what Walgreen’s paid him.
Montgomery: Jose and his girlfriend continue to move back and forth (on a weekly basis) between their parents’ homes when they fail to qualify for a mortgage on a new home. Jose struggles to pass a math class he needs to qualify for an associate degree in broadcasting.
Milwaukee: we learn that Percy and Marge have been forced to apply for bankruptcy to prevent their home from being foreclosed on. After 13 years of making payments on a 9% mortgage, they still owe the original $79,000 they borrowed.
Silicon Valley: Hilton, who works as a dishwasher for Google (through a temp agency), finds a better paying second job as an assistant restaurant manager. His girlfriend experiences pregnancy complications (which cost them $13,000) and loses her twins.
Evergreen Park. Emilia unsuccessfully applies for 48 better paying jobs in a month. Owing to the ongoing recession, the restaurant business is really slow. This drastically reduces her tips, which comprise over half her wages. (The Illinois minimum wage for restaurant workers is $4.95.) A friend helps her get a part-time evening job in telephone sales.
*Fight for Fifteen is a national campaign for a “living wage” of $15 an hour.
Hard Earned – Parts 1 and 2
Al Jazeera (2015)
As it bears no relation whatsoever to modern life, so-called “reality” TV is clearly a misnomer. Most of what passes for reality TV are highly scripted popularity contests for physically attractive white contestants.
Al Jazeera’s six-episode series Hard Earned, depicting the bitter struggle millions of Americans face to stay off the streets, is my kind of reality TV. Although I myself found it riveting, I am high skeptical that any US media provider will ever carry it.
Hard Earned follows five working class families as they struggle to meet basic survival needs with minimum wage jobs.
The families include an African American Chicago couple who work full time jobs at Walgreens to support two preschool kids; an Hispanic Iraq veteran in Montgomery Maryland who works a graveyard clerical shift at the courthouse, his school counselor girlfriend and his school aged son from a prior marriage; a Silicon Valley Hispanic man who works two full time jobs to pay $300 a month to live in a garage with his pregnant girlfriend; a 66/65-year-old African American Milwaukee couple who face working indefinitely at minimum wage jobs to keeping from losing their home; and a 50-year-old white Evergreen Park (Illinois) waitress who works two jobs and survives on credit cards to keep from losing the house she bought while making $80,000 a year as a construction worker.
We are introduced to the five families in Episode 1 and 2 (“The American Dream” and “Rock Bottom”). You are immediately struck by how exceptionally bright, hard working, resourceful and above all (for the most part) physically healthy they all are. This, despite working non-stop and getting very little sleep. They are also (for the most part) extremely adept at budgeting and managing their money.
Shelter: America’s Homeless Veterans
Al Jazeeera (Barbara Koppel) 2017
This heartbreaking documentary is about the 1.4 million US veterans who are either homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, due to poverty, mental illness, alcoholism and/or drug addiction. An American vet commits suicide every 61 seconds.
With the demise of nearly all Veterans Administration programs (eg GI Bill of Rights) that helped World War II vets reintegrate into society, veterans of America’s permanent War on Terror are mostly left to their own devices.
Owing to an extreme shortage of female shelter beds, homeless female veterans are the most underserved. Many homeless female vets were raped while serving, some multiple times. Those who report their sexual assault to superior officers are frequently kicked out of the military.
On the Streets – Los Angeles
Los Angeles Times (2016)
This is one of the better documentaries I’ve seen on homelessness. Based on a 2016 LA Times survey, it mainly focuses on high functioning homeless people, many of whom hold full time jobs.
According to the survey, in 2016 there were 44,000 homeless people in LA county. The survey mapped their location and whether they were living rough or in tents, camper vans or cars. The number of homeless living in vehicles doubled between 2015 and 2016.
It’s common for women in tents to cluster in “family” groups for security. The filmmakers interview a Skid Row cop who monitors the welfare of homeless people on his beat. He talks about a big increase in rapes, robbery, assaults and sex trafficking – due to criminals who prey on the homeless.
For me, the most interesting part of the film is an interview with a UCLA graduate student who lives in his car and is working with other homeless UCLA students to establish a youth homeless shelter. In the US, roughly 56,000 university students are homeless.