The Hope for Something More

The Hope for Something More

Watching a community come together to solve a problem is pretty amazing.  Memorializing it on film is even better, because we can sit down a year from now, look back at the hopeful faces in the crowd and see if the call for action yielded positive results.  On June 11, 2015, Milwaukee Downtown’s BID 21 and the Downtown Security Network organized a half day symposium, "Change for the Community-Solutions that Make Real Sense".  Over the course of several hours at Manpower’s headquarters, many of Milwaukee’s downtown business representatives heard from city and county leadership about the newly-revealed plan to end chronic homelessness in the city within three years. After seeing documentation of people sleeping on the streets with graphics imagery and our teaser trailer for 30 Seconds Away: Breaking the Cycle, the audience heard from Milwaukee’s Police Chief, the Mayor, the County Executive, the Director of Health and Human Services for Milwaukee County, the District Attorney and the City Attorney.  With an acknowledgement that businesses need a safe downtown, city and county leadership shared insight on each department’s capabilities and limitations when handling matters related to chronic homelessness.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Sam Tsemberis, brought the audience a fresh perspective on homelessness.  His “Housing First” model has demonstrated success in other cities with similar issues.  Dr. Tsemberis’ philosophy flies in the face of traditional programs designed to help people out of chronic homelessness.  Instead of using housing as the reward for beating addiction or accepting mental health treatment, Dr. Tsemberis’ model offers homeless individuals choices in all matters from the location of their housing to various treatments and services made available to them.  He spoke to Milwaukee’s group today about how the compassionate restoration of one’s dignity can turn a person’s life around.  His message was gently delivered but plainly spoken, and even skeptics in the audience could see that his program’s metrics point to success.  It appears that for Dr. Tsemberis, failure is not an option.  He emphasized that connections are more important than individual outcomes.  As I looked around the room at the diverse group of people at the symposium, their reasons for attending became irrelevant.  Listening to the various conversations that were held today, the takeaway was that over a hundred people in varying positions, all of whom can effectuate change, showed up to discuss homelessness in Milwaukee.  Through the lens today we saw hope, both for the city and the people.  As we film activities post-symposium, we are interested to see if today’s connections bring Milwaukee success. 

Counting Down to 30 Seconds Away

Counting Down to 30 Seconds Away

The end of winter signifies change for many of us.  For some, the rising temperatures means the start of golf season, the chance to enjoy sunshine and blue sky after months spent indoors.  For others, spring brings graduations, the chance to celebrate accomplishments and start new chapters in ever-changing lives.  And while many of us welcome baseball games and the growth of backyard gardens as annual rites of passage we observe through kitchen windows, a different perspective exists for Milwaukee’s homeless population. 

Since 2010, through the lens of our camera, we have followed the lives of several men who struggled with homelessness and poverty.  Harold, our central character, spent years sleeping outdoors and in abandoned buildings, battling substance abuse and health problems. Charlie, who suffers from chronic mental illness, is living underground, refusing assistance and treatment.  General, whose unfailing confidence has propelled him forward, has pieced together resources to keep a roof over his head for now.  Our other characters share similar stories to these men, and through this five-year period we see various outcomes and examine the root causes of their circumstances.  For these men, one season runs into another as they constantly seek relief from elements that many of us never experience from within the walls of our homes and offices.

Snow and freezing temperatures are not the only factors that the homeless community struggle with.  The criminal justice system represents a constant factor lurking behind the scenes of these men and their lives.  For some of our characters, a criminal case is the reason they cite for their journey into homelessness.  For others, the justice system offers a route toward assistance, with forced treatment and social service intervention offering impetus to leave the streets.  Since we began filming in 2010 the Milwaukee Police Department has undergone a great deal of transition and has changed its methodology as relates to the homeless community.  We have documented the Homeless Outreach Team and the departments progress in five years.

We examine the way that the justice system approaches homelessness and poverty and how their approach impacts the lives of our characters.  Our homeless characters provide frank opinions about their circumstances and the community-wide efforts to improve their outcomes.  Our characters within the justice system do the same, providing another perspective on resources and responsibilities.  As we condense five years of filming into one story we can share, our hope is for better outcomes from raising awareness with our film, 30 Seconds Away: Breaking the Cycle.