Documenting Shameful Behavior

A few months ago, I got a call from a young man who wanted to interview me about Indianapolis’ homeless problem. Why me? He had interviewed service providers, police officers and others involved with Indianapolis’ homeless on a day-to-day basis, but was looking for someone who could address the policy choices involved. I said, sure, come on over.

In due course, three young men came over with camera and other gear, and we talked about the city’s recent forced removal of a “tent city,” the fact that there is nowhere for homeless people to go for anything other than short-term (10 day) shelter, and–especially–the fact that Indianapolis (unlike other cities our size) budgets no public money to address homelessness.

They wanted to know why the city can find dollars to support sports teams, to subsidize development projects and even to build a cricket field, but somehow cannot find resources to help  people dealing with the loss of their jobs and homes–not to mention those with mental health problems. They wanted to know why these vulnerable people were ignored until someone complained of a “camp” at which time they were forcibly removed, their few meager possessions trashed, and they were ordered to go…somewhere else.

And they wanted to know why Mayor Ballard refused to talk to them.

I didn’t have very satisfactory answers to those questions.

The truth of the matter–as we all know–is that the political system responds to people who have “voice,” people who can  volunteer or contribute to campaigns, people who “know people,” who can have dinner or drinks with elected officials, and who can otherwise make their policy preferences known.

The trio left, and I didn’t hear anything more until a couple of days ago. They’d finished the documentary, Uncharted: The Truth Behind Homelessness and invited me to see it. Despite their youth, the product was impressive. Good production values, a thorough and even-handed treatment of the issues involved, and a genuinely gripping story.

Don’t take my word for it, though–watch the trailer, and then buy tickets to the first showing, at 2:30, at the IUPUI Campus Center on Saturday, May 31st. I plan to attend, even though I’ve seen it once.

Perhaps this will spark a conversation that Indianapolis needs to have.