Faces of Poverty: Homeless in NYC

Jessica Prince

English 1000C

Documentary Reflection

Faces of Poverty: Homeless in NYC

Eight million people wake up every morning and begin to engage in their daily endeavors whatever they may be. For most it includes going to work or school, running miniscule but necessary errands, and to cap it off many choose to retreat to an evening of some sort of recreation with friends and family. Within those eight million about 120,000 of those people do not execute a typical everyday sort of living; these people unfortunately represent the growing homeless population in New York City. They consist of the elderly, children, veterans, and handicapped, mentally ill and so on.  For this documentary project I decided to bring exposure to this unfortunately expanding issue. Having been homeless in the city on a few occasions myself I know firsthand that the reality that many of these people live is not always regarded in an objective manner and this I feel is a major reason behind the lack of progress the city has managed to achieve thus far.

(sighs) so I have to film a short documentary, I know absolutely nothing about filming or production, I know for a fact that I was taught how to use windows movie maker in high school but that knowledge has become an extinct part of my memory  Lol, With that being said I encourage you to look beyond the obvious armature nature of my short film and to instead appreciate the realness and “rawailty” if you will of the content for the message I desire for my audience to attain is embedded in that aspect of the film.  Initially my creative process got off to a very frustrating start I wanted to get a few interviews with various organizations however I ran in to much adversity in the midst of contacting people so I decided to put those encounters on hold. My greatest intentions were to avoid using material from other sources, however after reviewing some YouTube videos, and scoring through articles online I found that not using these materials would be limiting the scope of my artistic goals in regards to the film so I caved. Most of my thanksgiving and Black Friday (sad face emoticon, I was broke!) was spent reviewing any and every video I came across in relation to my topic. I saw, I laughed, I cried, and I narrowed down my choices to what I felt was the cream de la cream of what youtubers had to offer. The following weekend was spent engaging in the last part of my filming process (the part in which I could no longer avoid completing) which I choose to call my street encounters. Electing to take along a friend for assistance and support (and protection) we began our trek around downtown Brooklyn in search of the homeless population. Unfortunately it was pretty cold out, so most of those individuals I assume were taking shelter in warmer locations.

Desperate for some encounter I began to target the likely place subway stations, parks, coffee shops, and so on but it was like a ghost town. We came across a church that was taking in victims of hurricane sandy, I was hesitant but my friend encouraged me to inquire since we had yet to come across anyone, so I did. After a few rings a young woman answered our call, she looked at us an immediately said the church was closed, I interjected and told her about the documentary I was working on, she looked baffled but immediately objected to our request. Apparently she was engaged in a meeting at the moment and could not spare anytime for us, I thanked her and left a little confused (she seemed so startled an unsure during our encounter it was very awkward, shrugs!)

After the awkward encounter we continued are search for some unfortunate person loitering on the street somewhere. Honestly I was just about ready to give up but my friend wasn’t having it, We came to a desolate area, where we immediately encountered very cold wind chills from being in the open space and along fast moving traffic. Though the initial experience was uncomfortable it seemed as though fate had guided our footsteps because we walked right into a man in a wheelchair. At first glance we both were a little intimidated because he seemed odd and rather restless for  a handicapped person, but I was desperate and exhausted by all the walking we had done so I pushed my fear aside a approached him. My friend stood cautiously off to the side most likely flabbergasted by my boldness as I introduced myself to the complete stranger.  I began to explain to the man my purpose for approaching him, I related that I was making a documentary for a school assignment about homeless individuals in NYC and I asked if it would be ok to interview him. After he graciously agreed I beckoned for us to step away from the traffic to a less noisy area so that I could effectively film the interview. Once we were situated I whipped out my camera and asked him to tell his story.

Daniel Broome who also goes by the nickname “wheelchair” had been homeless in NYC for several years now.  His bout of homelessness was preceded by his service in the united states military, I immediately assumed that the lost of his lower extremities was a casualty of that experience but was proven otherwise after inquiring about it. As fate would have it he Wheelchair lost both his legs after a domestic dispute, throughout his testimony I couldn’t help but observe how eloquently he expressed himself, and this is not to say that I wouldn’t expect such a quality from a homeless individual, but actually I rarely encountered it in anyone who does that so it was quite refreshing and appreciated since it would add clarity to the overall tone of the film.

Wheelchair’s story like many others is not often what society presumes to be the typical downfall of the average homeless individual. So having been able to meet him and provide a channel for his testimony is essentially the purpose of faces in poverty. From that interview alone I gathered twenty minutes of footage but I was determined to get the testimonies of other individuals. Unfortunately due to the weather my assistant and I had to call it a night. I decided to hit up YouTube to screen some of the videos I watched earlier in my research, I came across an individual whose story I felt would groove with the other content I had gathered perfectly, The guy was filmed panhandling around the Union Square area of NYC and confided to the audience several minutes into the film about the past events leading up to his demise. First was the loss of some immediate family members and his spouse which ultimately lead to his depression resulting in the loss of his employment. This man claimed to have two advanced degrees, and I noticed in some of the comments responding to the film several people doubting the credibility of that. How could a college graduate become homeless? I knew then that his testimony was essential because it is obviously unheard of that people of such prominence and achievement can come to such ruins.

After  watching this video and reading the comments I decided to include this along with  the other content I gathered from my interview with Wheelchair. More stories like his own definitely need to be documented because as hard as it may be to accept a college degree does not guarantee success or the continuation of it throughout one’s life.

As arduous as it is for me to admit I  (a future college graduate) have been homeless on several occasions in NYC, and unfortunately have encountered other individuals with the same circumstances. Homelessness is not monolithic to one type of person and contrary to the stereotype, a lot of individuals develop mental illness and drug addictions as a result of homelessness.  Until this stereotype is eradicated society will continue to regard this issue passively.  I hope to make others aware of the realities of the supposedly “47%” by this documentation of the NYC homeless situation. The world should know that not many within this population of society chose to be poor nor do we wish to remain so, but often times not being born into privilege or becoming under privileged cripples many to the point where is much adversity in between their situation and any prosperity.


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