Black Homeless Americans

Black Lives: America’s Homeless Epidemic

RT (2018)

Film Review

In this RT documentary, filmmakers visit homeless areas in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and St Louis. As a group, African Americans experience the highest levels of unemployment and poverty. This means they are disproportionately represented among America’s homeless.

In New York, RT interviews a homeless African American who has two masters degrees and worked 17 years as a marriage counselor. He became homeless after his wife died of breast cancer, which led him to a bout of psychotic depression and drug and alcohol abuse. He can’t obtain drug treatment owing to a history of violence associated with his mental illness.

In Los Angeles, filmmakers visit the now infamous tent city that has sprung up in Skid Row.

In Philadelphia, they visit the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a privately run facility that serves three meals a day and runs a 180-bed shelter. Because 40% of Philadelphia residents are only two paychecks away from homelessness, they are full most nights and turn people away.

In St Louis, they interview the founder of Showers to the People. The latter converted a large box truck into a portable shower facility for the city’s homeless residents.

 

 

 

The Danger of Biased Artificial Intelligence

The World According to AI – Episode 2 The Bias in the Machine

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary examines how drone algorithms the US military developed for the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen (see Civilian Drone Strikes: Targeted by Algorithm) are being rolled out by urban police. Because these law enforcement algorithms are based on faulty data, they disproportionately target the poor and minorities. Because these particular zip codes are already over-policed, they provide the vast majority of data used in creating new algorithms.

What the filmmakers find particularly alarming is that many of the same algorithms are used to make bail decisions, sentencing recommendations and credit scores, as well as determining eligibility for state housing and other benefits.

The filmmakers visit Skid Road, the second most policed area in the world, after Baghdad. Owing to the current housing crisis, it hosts a massive homeless population, most of whom are either Black or disabled. The reason Skid Row is so heavily policed is because Skid Row borders on the wealthy Los Angeles financial district. One Skid Row woman has been arrested 108 times for sitting or lying on the sidewalk.

The US military also uses Skid Row population to test new spy software.

Living on the Street in Los Angeles

On the Streets – Los Angeles

Los Angeles Times (2016)

Film Review

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.

The UN’s Shocking Report on US Poverty

This Al Jazeera news feature highlights the recent report by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston on extreme poverty levels in the US. Panelists include Alston himself and antipoverty activists from Alabama and Skid Row in Los Angeles. A Guardian reporter accompanied Alston on his tour of American communities. The photos are heart wrenching.

Alston points out the US is very different from other poverty-stricken countries he visits. Other countries have large indigent populations because their governments are too poor to assist them. In contrast, the US has just awarded $1.5 trillion to its most wealthy citizens.

According to Alston, the US has 40 million people living in poverty and many of them are employed. During his investigation, he spoke to WalMart employees who can’t afford to feed their families without federal food stamps. The US government provides $6 billion in food stamps to WalMart employees.