It Was a Wonderful Life

It Was a Wonderful Life shows that a growing number of middle-class women are forced to live out of their cars following a divorce, job loss or a long illness. They’re clean, educated, articulate, and rarely receive public assistance, as they struggle to survive one day at a time. This film chronicles the hardships and infrequent triumphs of six of these homeless women. I expected to see a documentary about bag ladies who talk to themselves, etc., but this is all about people just like myself. It introduces us to a new sub-genre of unfortunates, the “THE INVISIBLE HOMELESS,” so-called because most of their acquaintances do not realize they are homeless. Looking at them at work you’d never know they had lost their home. These women are educated, hard-working, but homeless. You wonder, how in the hell did this happen to them. These women are people you might know in your everyday life who have had bad things happen — a divorce, loss of a job, loss of a home or apartment, refusal of a divorced spouse to pay child support – if any of those happen, a person or family can be out of their home and onto the street or into their car, with nowhere to turn. These women are not the delusional, dirty, penniless souls we automatically associate with the homeless; rather, they are articulate, smart, well-adjusted, and above all, determined to make their own way. I felt that these women were not only very intelligent, but also competent and sincerely good people. They seem to just have dug themselves a hole and have been unable to climb out. It certainly is easy to believe that all “street people” are homeless because they are all a bunch of lazy drunks or drug addicts, and therefore deserve their misfortune. But the women profiled here were articulate and educated. Much of the blame is on bad relationships with men who did not provide for their future after separation. These unfortunate women defy stereotypical classification; they aren’t the archetypically downtrodden but rather highly educated, well-spoken and talented individuals, who have for a multiplicity of reasons — e.g. divorce, illness, bad investments—slipped through the cracks. Initially it might appear as though they’ve all managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of expected victory given their aforementioned individual qualities and the upwardly mobile cultural tenor of the 90s, but in truth their hard luck circumstances were in no small part due to factors beyond their control. Delinquent absentee husbands, a pitifully under-funded local housing authority, or a discriminatory city ordinance against sleeping in your car (an overt salvo callously lobbed at the homeless) were complicit in marginalizing these hard-working courageous American women. This film shows how hard it is to get back into the job market or back into a house or apartment once you don’t have one. Their inability to accumulate enough money to pay first and last months’ rent plus security deposit, coupled with their lack of a permanent address & phone number, creates a vicious cycle of homelessness and joblessness. What is so good about this documentary is that you get to know these women well, and none of them strike you as “the homeless type”. They live in cars but don’t call themselves homeless…or helpless. The film may be depressing at times, but its message is one of hope — never give up. The feeling is that one day they’ll turn things around if they just keep going. I hope they do. It also showed some hope as a few of these women were eventually able to break out of the cycle of homelessness. What intrigued me the most is that all these woman had hopes and smiles on their faces – whereas I’ve known people with money who are unhappy and always have something to complain about. This documentary really got to me for several reasons, the first one being that anyone can become homeless, as so many people are only one paycheck away from being homeless. Not much difference between “them” & us, leaving the viewer (especially if you’re a woman) with a renewed awareness of what’s really going on in our society. I don’t think anyone who watches this will walk away without the realization that homelessness could happen to them. It sheds light on the fact that many of us are vulnerable to financial hardship in ways we might not consider. It made me think about ways that I could be more responsible with my own financial life. I used to live in a place where housing costs were and still are astronomical. Losing our home was often a worry that I was forced to think about. I was blessed to have family that could help us out when everything didn’t go as planned financially. I know that some people don’t have that safety net, and their worst fears can become real — as did those of these women. I think that many who watch this documentary might question their own spending habits. This implies the old advice that when times are good, it would be a good idea to save or prepare in some way for a rainy day. And don’t rely on your ex-spouse for financial support. At one point a meter-reader gives one of these homeless women a parking ticket on her car, which is also her house — and so the filmmaker confronts the meter-reader, who says, “Well I’m just one paycheck away from being homeless too. I work two jobs to support my kids.” This movie will make you appreciate everything that you have in your life — all the things you take for granted like a roof over your head, a safe place to sleep, a shower & toilet, nutritious food. I found this movie to be real. I understand their situation because I myself have been there. Fact is, it could happen to many of us quite easily. (Look at the health insurance crisis or the housing collapse). It makes you realize that nothing is “permanent”. You can lose it all tomorrow, so we need to live the moment to the fullest and be happy and be thankful for what we do have. Although this documentary is about the plight of homeless women, being a man I could not deny that homelessness could happen to me too. This is a real kick in the pants for people who say, “It could never happen to me.” The film was sad and it is still bothering me two days after viewing it. This movie has inspired me to do something about the homeless. I talked to some people at work about how I felt about homelessness (something I rarely gave thought to before seeing this film) and the things that I could be doing to help those in unfortunate circumstances. One thing the film didn’t address clearly is how to help if you know someone who may be or soon may become homeless. We must embrace our brothers and sisters and not turn up our nose at someone because they have less than we do. As adroitly depicted in the film, homelessness takes on the quality of a disease the rest of us shun like a highly communicable socio-economic plague. It’s true what one woman said in this film — if you’re not homeless yourself, you don’t really care about the homeless person. I wonder, with all the social, political and economic forces seemingly conspiring against them, why people continue to view homelessness as a purely individual problem. We could be one paycheck away from being homeless ourselves. Pay it forward. Help someone. I think the real message is that in any level of class that we’re in, we are all consumed with our own problem which would be considered a minor problem to anyone homeless or people in poverty. We are all selfish. I enjoyed watching this film. This documentary keeps the viewer interested until the end, and concerned for the subjects. Please watch all the way through until the end of the credits for an update on Lou, a woman who lived in a U-Haul — I suspect a lot of people miss that update. By the end of the movie I was in tears. It proved to me, once again, how delicate is the balance of life. I would hope all who do grab on to the handle of life a little harder because it can flip on you. It gets the point across explicitly that homelessness is not just for derelicts any more. It is a cautionary tale against complacency. It shows us how homelessness can overtake almost anyone. Wow, this movie struck a chord in my heart and mind. Powerful stuff here. Everyone needs to see this documentary. I strongly recommend this movie to everyone in all walks of life. This movie is an eye-opener, sad but true. I think all women should see this movie, and it should be required viewing prior to every wedding. This documentary deeply affected me when I saw it and has stayed with me since then. If one of the purposes of a documentary is to embed images in your consciousness, this one succeeded. Well worth the 84 minutes it will take to watch it, if only to stimulate your thinking…and rethinking…of this social issue. I will be viewing it a second time, tomorrow, as it has had a great impact upon me after just seeing it. I rated this documentary as 5 stars because it is extremely enlightening and forcefully informative. Narrated by Jodie Foster. Documentary 1993 NR 84 minutes.

SEE ALSO:

Waging a Living

 

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