I was greatly disappointed watching the documentary called “The Streets of Plenty” that seeks to document the issues surrounding homelessness in Vancouver. The filmaker inserts himself into the community in the Downtown Eastside with the stated goal of really knowing what homelessness is about, but it comes off as self-absorbed and uninformed. The first ten minutes were so unpleasant as the filmaker highlighted his biases of victim-blaming, and showed the demeaning ways he attempted to make himself the same as a homeless person.
Points that I particularly objected to:
- He stated that panhandling is not embarrassing, rather you simply feel ignored. I would suggest that feeling invidible is deeply shaming to many.
- He shows graphs demonstrating the increase of homelessness along with the increase of social housing, suggesting that social housing is encouraging more homelessness. Rather, homelessness in increasing, and we are attempting to keep pace with services.
- He falsifies how easy it is to get social assistance for a disability. ODSP claims are in reality much more difficult, and much more frequently rejected.
- He presents a philosopher multiple times who repeats the false claime that we are incentivizing homelessness, missing the point that 0% of people who are homeless identify homelessness as their housing status of choice.
- He overstates the rate of addiction in homelessness as 100%, versus 30% for those who are temporarily homeless and 66% for those who are chronically homeless.
- He concludes with victim-blaming, calling homelessness and addiction “self-imposed slavery”. The thousands of stories I hear do have a component of the self, but have much more to do with the social determinants of health and structural violence.
There were a few things I appreciated:
- He highlighted the historical problems with the mental health system.
- He talked about how brutal conditions can be in emergency shelters.
- He hinted at the frustrations of having no where to use the washroom.
- He touched on the complexities of homelessness.
Interestingly, at the end of the documentary he interviews the Mayor of Vancouver who talks about exactly what the isssues are with homelessness, the primary being the lack of social housing with supports. This might have been a better place to start the documentary, starting with what we already know.