Born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Myles Kramer is a visual artist with a diverse creative background. In high school and college, Myles created a variety of documentaries and music videos. Myles works as an independent filmmaker and specializes in documentaries. As an Example of his work we had the opportunity to interview him about his Activism Skid Row Housing Trust.
How was putting the production together for this cause?
I was upfront when approaching Skid Row Housing Trust about the film, and I communicated I wanted to learn about how the organization works and educate myself about the homeless epidemic in Los Angeles. Skid Row Housing Trust was very receptive and welcoming of our crew into their buildings, and I have the utmost gratitude to the Trust’s administration, staff, and residents. Upon our first few days of shooting, we had residents who were eager to share their stories, and I made a few friends along the way.
How many people were part of the crew to be part of this documentary?
The core crew was three people, but there were days that we had up to five people. I found that residents tended to feel more comfortable with fewer people and minimal equipment. (Myles Kramer – director / editor, Wilder Bunke – cinematographer, Jameo Duncan – sound recordist, Sawyer Hurwitz – producer, Michelle Kwong – cinematographer, Ethan Reichsman – production assistant)
In your journey going in the streets interviewing people what was the most common problem about homelessness that you encounter?
One of the most common themes I found surprising was just how many people are forced to live on the street because of the result of some kind of medical issue. Every day in Los Angeles there are people who fall ill or have some type of accident, they go to the hospital, they are unable to pay for their medical bills, and then they are left to the streets. I spoke with people who recall when they were wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair, just out of surgery still in their hospital gown, and left alone on the street to figure out what to do next. This kind of thing happens more often than you might think. Many of the hospitals in the Skid Row area are overwhelmed with patients and are unable to accommodate the volume of people they are serving, but these issues are a result of larger systematic problems with our social services and healthcare system in the US.
Homelessness can happen to anyone. I spoke with homeless and previously homeless people who are college educated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, they come from middle-income families, they had prospects, but still they ran into a bad situation that led them into homelessness. A major life event, including but not limited to medical issues, death in the family, or bankruptcy can happen to anyone at any time, and if there is no backup plan, that person is likely to become homeless.
One of the most surprising things I learned is that it’s actually cheaper to house people in permanent supportive housing developments, like Skid Row Housing Trust, than to keep people living on the streets. In Los Angeles, many city utilities and taxpayer resources are heavily relied on just to maintain the status quo. Resources are spent on emergency room visits, municipal repairs to sidewalks and street lights, crews are needed to clean up the massive amounts of trash that go unmanaged, and this is just to name a few. Of course, resources are also needed to operate a permanent supportive housing organization, but the city ends up paying less than it does to maintain these people on the streets.
What’s the perspective of your crew getting involved and bringing light to this kind of project expressing that there is more good in the world and that is possible to make a positive change in society
After making the film, the perspective of myself and my crew has shifted to be more sympathetic of the less fortunate. We gained a greater understanding of the broken systems that lead people to homelessness, and we learned that an overwhelming majority of the people living on the streets do not simply “want to be there.”
Permanent supportive housing practices have proven to be an effective solution for not only housing the homeless but helping people maintain their housing. In many cases, it’s not as simple as to give someone a place to live and call it done. Many people who come from living on the streets are in need of services to help them reintegrate back into society, and many of them desire to eventually work and become self-sufficient again. These services can range to cover medical needs, job development skills, counseling, and even cooking classes. In many cases, without these wrap-around services, people will fall back into homelessness because that is what they have grown accustomed to. The key to permanent supportive housing are these wrap-around services, that ultimately help people regain their self-sufficiency.
The biggest challenges to permanent supportive housing are the public misconceptions that surround homelessness. Many people have a misunderstanding that these permanent supportive housing developments will end up attracting more homeless people to the area, and this is just not true. In fact, some of the housing developments operated by Skid Row Housing Trust are deliberately placed outside of historically homeless areas, in order to give the residents a change of environment which helps them retain their housing. These housing developments can actually end up becoming assets to a neighborhood, and Skid Row Housing Trust is also demonstrating that they can bring a beautiful architectural presence to a neighborhood.
Homelessness is a crisis in Los Angeles, and the problem is only growing until we do something about it. One question I always ask people is, would you rather see someone living in a tent in your neighborhood, or living in a housing complex in your neighborhood? Permanent supportive housing is not the one and only solution to homelessness, but it’s a practice with a proven track record, and it should be adopted and welcomed into our neighborhoods and communities.
What would you say to people that want to help others and don’t know how?
There are many ways to help the homeless, big and small. A lot of organizations rely on the help of volunteers to provide aid to the homeless, such as shelters and the homeless census. If you have the land, you could opt to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and even receive funding from the city.
One thing I do when a homeless person asks me for money is offer to buy them a meal instead. Another good strategy is to keep a case of water bottles or snacks in your car, and when someone asks you for money, offer them something else instead. Many people who live on the street have needs for basic things like socks, shoes, toothbrushes, hygiene kits, and other items that many of us take for granted.
I’ve also learned that sometimes all a person wants is someone to talk to. Many people who live on the street are ignored day to day, humiliated, and dehumanized. Sometimes all a person wants is to feel validated again, be recognized as a human, and be heard. Depending on the situation and your comfort level, try having a conversation with someone living on the street – it could end up being very rewarding on both ends.
Being in the streets and witnessing the transformative journey of the people with no home and transitioning to have a roof over their heads, having basics necessities covered. Did this had an impact in the way that you perceive life right now, appreciation for what you have and who you are as an active person in Society?
After hearing stories about how people have become homeless, and their experiences living on the streets, it’s definitely given me a greater appreciation for my own circumstances and upbringing. I recognize that I’ve been lucky to have a lot of opportunities in my life, and it has taught me to complain less about things that don’t actually matter. Most of all, because of my privilege, I feel a responsibility to help those in poverty, and I want to use my platform as a filmmaker to educate others. In Gandhi’s words, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” We have a solution for homelessness, and now it’s up to us to bring this solution to scale.