This 'backstory' is part one of three you will find about the experience of going to homeless camps and the mental and emotional effects this had on the writers. The words come from Amy, Larissa and Dawn who joined me as we filmed three different locations and met the wonderful people who call these camps 'home'. We now consider them as our homeless friends.
(Introduction by Randy Bacon)
I am passionate about 7 Billion Ones and am part of their advocacy group, "The Billionaire's Club". As a club member, Randy presented a unique opportunity to me and a few others. He was shooting a short film for a nonprofit, Gathering Tree, and he asked if I wanted to come along and assist with the filming. The very unique part of this request is that we would be filming our homeless friends in their camps - to be allowed into their camps and to film is quite an honor. I instantly replied, "YES"!
The night before we were to go on our video shoot of the local homeless camps, I found myself stressing over what I was going to wear. We would be walking around outside for three or four hours to film and the high was only supposed to be in the low 30s. The irony of my worry hit me pretty hard. I was stressed over the thought of spending a few hours outside in the cold when I was going to be visiting the camps where my homeless friends stay almost every night, no matter the weather.
There’s not a whole lot you can do to prepare yourself for an experience like this, beyond trying to decide what to wear. I’d been seeing my homeless friends several times a week for a while now without having a real picture of what they went back to at night. I had a general idea of what to expect but seeing it with your own eyes is something different entirely. I’ve lived almost my entire life here in Springfield, but as I walked down the railroad tracks talking with our homeless friend Michael, I felt like I was in another city. The camps were in a part of town I’d never been to, hidden in a forested area I’d never seen. Walking through them, I felt like I was a world away, even though it was just a short drive across town from the house where I grew up.
It’s hard to put into words what these camps were like. The tents were scattered around, the area between them cluttered with blankets, bicycles, empty containers, trash. It’s hard to imagine anyone spending time there, let alone living there. Even still, as we walked through them some of the camp residents were eager to show us their belongings, their homes. Others wanted to straighten up a bit before allowing us to look in, the same way I do whenever I have people over. In one camp, a toy dinosaur hung from a tree branch with a walnut in its mouth. It was a little silly maybe, but it was just a little bit of character, a tiny glimpse into the sense of humor of these people who are so often overlooked.
Seeing Michael’s camp hit me the hardest, probably because I’ve come to know him so well over the past few months. It was exactly how I had imagined it would be—pristine and perfectly designed. He had truly made this place his home, in a way I never could have understood without seeing it. Two years and nine months he’d been living there—he’d told me in one of the first conversations I ever had with him that he’d been able to stay in the same place for so long in part because it was such a well-kept secret.
Friday is a day I am going to think about for the rest of my life. It is almost impossible for someone as privileged as I am to understand and believe that people in our community are living out there in the cold, doing the best they can to survive. And yet I saw it with my own eyes; they are my friends. And perhaps the biggest thing I took away from that day was the fact that I was so incredibly honored to have been allowed inside their camps, especially Michael’s. For so many of our homeless friends, showing people where they live means risking their camps being torn down, their belongings stolen, scattered, and destroyed. I can’t imagine going about my day having to wonder that all my belongings might be gone when I come home at night. They trusted us with the knowledge of their homes in the hope that sharing their reality might make a difference. I intend to do everything I can to make sure that it does.