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.