America’s Homeless Middle Class

How Poor People Survive in the USA

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about homeless members of middle class America whose wages are too low to cover rent. Filmmakers visit San Diego, Los Angeles, Richmond Virginia, Appalachia and Waco Texas.

In San Diego they film a parking lot in which thirty people working as Uber drivers, security guards, secretaries, cleaners, carers and computer technicians sleep in their cars overnight. A charity provides them with portapotties, a water point, and an open air kitchen facility. One of the carers who sleeps there works nine hour days seven days a week.

In Los Angeles, which filmmakers refer to as the homeless capitol of the US (with 59,000 homeless), the documentary profiles a full time volunteer who builds wooden tiny houses (which have been legally banned by the city council) for people currently living tents.

In Richmond, filmmakers follow local sheriffs carrying out an eviction at gunpoint. They also visit one of the budget motels that have sprung up in the Richmond outskirts due to the city’s high number of evictions.*

In Appalachia, they visit one of the poorest counties in the nation, where volunteers run a daily food truck to distribute food to the area’s children. They also profile a military-style field hospital that provides once-a-year medical and dental treatment for the uninsured. The field hospital, held on a local sports field, is funded by a national charity and staffed by volunteer health providers.

In Waco, the filmmakers visit a church program that recruits candidates from all over the US to pay 60 dollars to experience sleeping rough first hand.

*In Virginia, a landlord can legally evict a tenant once their rent is five days past due.


Collective Anarchism: Alive and Well in Virginia

Roses on my Table

Ethan Silverstein (2011)

Film Review

“I’d rather have roses at my table than diamonds on my neck.” Emma Goldman

Roses on My Table is a short documentary  about daily life in a Richmond Virginia anarchist collective called Wingnut. It was produced in response to a statement by Virginia State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment describing Wingnut residents as “armed and dangerous terrorists.” It attempts to correct common misconceptions about what anarchists believe and how they seek to accomplish their political objectives.

Wingnut first formed in 2009 when one of their members purchased a condemned home and enlisted a group of anarchist friends to live there and make it fit for human habitation.

Like other anarchists, Wingnut residents believe society would be better off without a state and arbitrary coercive authority. Their anti-government, anti-police and anti-prison views are well received in their mostly minority neighborhood. In part, this relates to the community services they offer. The house is open to the public twice a week with free Internet access and meeting space to discuss neighborhood concerns. In addition to providing kitchen space for the Richmond chapter of Food Not Bombs (a national group dedicated to feeding the homeless), Wingnut also performs a once a week neighborhood cleanup.

The group collectively makes all decisions about the house and the political activities they undertake. When neighbors ask how they seek to bring about political change, they assert it’s not up to them, that autonomous groups of people need to decide “how life should be.”

Two specific Wingnut actions the film depicts are the March 18, 2011 occupation of a neighborhood park to stop the city from selling it to developers and a citywide clean-up of fallen trees and other storm damage following Hurricane Irene in August 2011. As part of the occupation of Monroe Park, the collective helped set up a homeless community for park residents, as well as collecting food and starting a free market This was six months before the formation of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park.

Towards the end of the film, a homeless person involved in the occupation neatly sums up Wingnut’s vision and purpose: “If society collapses people won’t be able to survive on their own – human society has always operated collectively. Society works better by helping people out.”

Wingnut Facebook Page