San Franciso is hosting Super Bowl 50 in a few days and the city has been getting ready for all the tourism and economic activity that it will bring.
The spotlight of the big game tends to motivate cities to project their "best self" so that tourists spend as much as possible and come back in the future. The problem with this approach is that it falsifies the true nature of a city and casts out people who do not fit the sterilized mold.
In San Francisco, this means getting rid of the homeless who line streets and public spaces with their meager possessions and tents. The city is one of the richest in the country (it has the highest real estate prices), yet it has one of the highest rates of homelessness.
Michael Reiner saw this "clean-up" taking shape and wanted to show who the people are who live out in the streets before they were cast out. Despite all the dismissive narratives about the homeless, they are real people with real emotions who have real needs and endure real suffering.
I spoke with Michael about his film and the broader state of homelessness for Global Citizen:
What inspired this film?
This film was inspired by seeing homeless people in San Francisco everyday. I wanted to get their side of the story because it is one that few people hear. When I started talking with people on the street, their stories really moved me. Based on statements from Mayor Ed Lee, I knew many homeless people would be moved in anticipation of Super Bowl 50, so I went out and started asking for their stories before they were gone.
How aware are US citizens of the country's homelessness problem?
Most people are aware that there's an issue regarding homelessness in our country, but we all have a different theory of the problem at hand. Regardless of what the problem is, it's plain to see that the system is not working. People are living and dying on the streets and there's a lot we can do to take better care of them.
What are some legislative solutions to homelessness?
In terms of legislative solutions, creating more affordable housing, while difficult in a city like San Francisco, is necessary in order to keep people off of the streets.
The need for bathrooms and hygienic facilities came up in a number of conversations I had while making this film. In San Francisco, the homeless are criticized for public defecation, but there is often no viable alternative for them. Repealing sit-lie laws that prohibit homeless people from sleeping on the ground, would increase their quality of life.
The closer that policy makers work with those affected and their advocates, the more likely we'll be able to change things for the better.
How can everyday people help out?
I've seen the power of simply acknowledging someone. It's easy and you can do it on your commute. This project helped me take a different perspective on the city's homeless people. The key was interaction. I've learned that acknowledging people, talking with them, and most of all listening, are powerful and underrated tools.
Read more about the state of homelessness in the US here.
Michael Reiner is a freelance creative who lives and works in San Francisco. This is his first ever film.