I started writing this post with the intention of drawing attention to the faux homeless encampment erected in downtown Los Angeles last week for the filming of a new movie. I was going to show pictures of the fake homeless set side-by-side with photos of what it usually looks like -- comparing the relative opulence of the movie set with a true portrait of how bad it is for these people.
I was going to point out the props: clean clothes on a clothesline, unused boxes artfully arranged as shelters, tents with no stains or rips, bottles collected that had been assiduously scrubbed.
But the post didn't do justice to the difference between on-screen portrayals of homelessness and the harsh reality. so I scrapped it. There was no way I was able to write that these sanitized portrayals of homeless people in movies contributes to our neglect of the homeless problem, and homeless people themselves.
The homeless that usually loiter in this area do not have tents or boxes to sleep in. The blankets that some have are not clean, not whole, and not sanitary. They don't have tables and chairs set up as eating and chatting areas. The homeless are not doing fine; pretending that they lives lives "outside the grid" but with enough food and shelter to make them relatively happy is completely false, and contributes to our abiliy to ignore them all the more.
Following are photos of the "set." First, an example comparing real trash to fake trash:
Real trash is rotten and disgusting and you wouldn't want to touch it becuase flies have laid eggs in it. Fake trash is clean and fresh, just ordered from the mattress store.
Homeless people are not living in little communities, complete with living rooms and cafes. They eat whatever they can find, wherever and whenever they can.
They do not have clotheslines, replete with clean clothes from which they select their daily wardrobe.
The homeless do not have clean, new tents in which to sleep. They don't even have unused boxes. In the movie set, the tents and boxes are free of rips, tears and stains, and are clearly new and untouched.
And if they have sheets or blankets, they aren't clean and fresh, right out of the packaging from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
And they don't have time for elaborate home decoration such as this.
Look inside this faux trash receptacle, which the prop guys set up as a homeless person's shelter. See how dirty the container itself is? But the goods inside are clean and fresh? If you're living in anything downtown, it's filthy, you're filthy, and all of the stuff you have is filthy.
Many of the city's homeless do push shopping carts around, loaded up with all kinds of stuff. But not brand-new trendy shoes. And when someone is going around collecting used plastic and glass bottles in a garbage bag, the garbage bag is dirty, and the bottles are not clean and pristine, as they are in this prop.
And the homeless can't leave their shopping carts and possessions lying around, with a security guard to watch over them -- if they leave their stuff, it'll be gone, which is why you see so many unfortunates carrying all of their belongings with them.
This isn't just a way to poke fun at the movie industry "getting it wrong" again -- because we're not talking about the wrong typeface used in a period piece or a continuity error; we're talking about marginalizing people and not allowing ourselves to see what's really going on.
Homeless people are not living it up on the streets -- they don't have even the basic necessities for life, such as food and reliable shelter. Pretending that they don't have it so bad, and presenting them in such a state in movies, hurts our ability to help them. And I don't care if you're not sympathetic to individual homeless people you may or may not see -- a society that allows this to happen to human beings needs to be fixed, and we can not let the whitewashing of the problem continue. Ignoring it will only make it worse.