|Produced in collaboration with homeless people and shown
on PBS, this thought provoking homeless video is recommended by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The video is
widely considered to be the best and most broadly applicable case study available on the scope and diversity of
homelessness in America.
Homless Person - Address Unknown
St.Paul Dispatch - Express Section
April 18, 1996
|By Ellen Tomson
Bright sunlight glimmers through leafy treetops. A man sings cheerily, "Good mornin', good mornin.' The best to you each
mornin'. K-E-double L-O-double-good Kelloggs' best to you!"
The singer is a self-described "train tramp" who lives outside all year and answers to the name "West Side." He and
several other men crawl out of a makeshift shelter of blankets and plastic sheeting to begin another day homeless in
the Twin Cities.
That is the opening scence in the "Homeless Home Movie",
a documentary starring real Twin Cities homeless people, which premieres Friday at the University of Minnesota's
Patrick Hennessey, 33, spent the last four years producing
and directing "The Homeless Home Movie," starting from the premise that the experts on homelessness "are the people out
there living it."
"I wanted to film these homeless people and pump them into the comforts of living rooms," says Hennessey, who hopes that
his video will be shown on television. "People are comfortable enough to turn on their TVs and experience the lives of
the homeless, even though they might not stop on the street to talk to someone who is homeless."
Hennessey followed 11 homeless people throughout four seasons and eventually focused on seven to produce the film. The
cast of local homeless include:
*Ken and Debbie, who live for a while in a red station
wagon they call Bertha. After Hurricane Andrew, they make a failed attempt to travel in the car to Florida, where they
hope to land jobs as laborers or construction workers, rebuilding homes.
"Being homeless ourselves, we understand what they're going through," Debbie says.
And Ken jokes about the trip to Florida: "We can do it now - or wait until we retire!"
Months later, though, they are back in St. Paul, where the rent on their apartment is equal to "27 of these," says Ken,
holding up a whiskey bottle.
Debbie is candid about their alcoholism. She figures Ken has been through treatment at least eight times and she has
been through it twice. "Oh, yeah, both of us are proven alcoholics," she states.
*West Side sometimes lives in a place known as "The
Hole," an opening under a parking lot, near the railroad tracks in Minneapolis. Every weekday he rises at 5:30 a.m. to
work as a volunteer for Catholic Charities so that when he eats there "it's not like getting a handout."
More and more families and runaway kids show up for free meals now than years ago, observes West Side, who blames "the
Once a logger in Oregon, he says he served in Vietnam beginning in 1967 and saw friends die there. He was a loner before
the war and more of one when he returned. "When you lose friends or lose somebody just that quick...you learn to put a shield
up," he says.
*Greg Horan, who says he attended graduate school at
Cornell University and worked for 15 years at a publishing job in New York City. He owned a house, he says, but he
became homeless after a series of events: His daughter died from leukemia, he and his wife divorced, he left the city
and then was hit by a truck.
"Many people do not realize they are one truck away from disaster," he says.
"Everything is all very tentative," he adds later. "Your're always living on the edge."
A bulkey, balding figure, he walks with a measured limp and looks like he could be a college professor with his pullover
sweaters and briefcase. He describes the Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul, where he stays temporarily, as a place jammed
with beds for 40 men who share one bathroom with two uncovered toilets."
"To me, that's homeless," he states. "Almost like being in prison."
Horan observes, " I haven't seen anybody getting up and out of poverty anywhere. By any system...I've seen peole go
around and around in a circle."
*Tina Meyer, a 15-year-old pregnant runaway who survives
by panhandling. She hangs out at a McDonalds's she and her friends call McPunk's.
At first, when you're first out on the streets, it's like a dream," she says. "You're, like, 'Oh, God, I'm in a bad
nightmare. Wake me up somebody. Somebody, help.' But then, finally, you get used to it, you know."
Solving the problem
The film also examines some of the politics of homelessness and two different attempts to address it.
There's Mary Jo Copeland, who runs Sharing and Caring
Hands in Minneapolis. She says she provides food and clothing for "people falling through the cracks - hundreds of
people falling through the cracks of the system."
But one of those who accepts a meal at Sharing and Caring is a man who describes her efforts as "the Band-Aid syndrome."
The man, who wears a polo shirt with Toyota and its corporate symbol printed on it, says, "People need real help. So
they don't have to come back. Ever."
Mark Thisius, an Up and Out of Poverty activist who has
led housing takeovers and seeks to end "the war on the poor," says Copeland is "corporate" and "about charity."
"What Mary Jo is doing is wrong," Thisius says. "We have had enough of charity. We want justice."
Copeland responds, "People need a bandage when the're bleeding." And she describes the Up and Out of Poverty group as
"real radicals," a "big, hysterical task force."
Filmmaker Hennessey says that understanding the politics of homelessness means realizing there is "the reality, and the
perception and the gatekeepers of the perception."
A filmmaker's journey
Hennessey, who grew up in St. paul, describes himself as "a recovering marketing major." He graduated cum laude with a
bachelor of arts degree in marketing from the University of St. Thomas in 1986. He studied scriptwriting and audio
production at Film in the Cities and film and journalism on a graduate fellowship at the University of Minnesota.
He worked at security and construction jobs while making the film and, during the last phase of the project, lived in a
van "to cut down on the commute to my homeless movie job."
He shot 120 hours of video and edited it to 105 minutes. The project cost about $25,000, plus donated equipment, most of
which came from the Minneapolis Television Network. He did everything from visiting corporate and foundation offices
seeking sponsors to renting a popcorn machine for Friday's premiere. The film credits are "laughably short," he notes.
As the project evolved, he says, "More and more, I saw homelessness as the visible sore emerging from the underlying
sickness of drug abuse, social injustice and the breakdown of the family."
Homelessness runs much deeper than its more obvious symptom, lack of housing, he decided.
And a home is much more than a roof and walls. "The Homeless Home Movie" includes a scene in which a man with a chest-
lenght red beard stands in front of his "hooch," a shack made of slatted construction pallets which he shares with two
Anything you miss about a home that you don't have here?" asks Gena Tsoronis, the film's interviewer.
"My mama," the man answers.