Homeless documentary Trickle Down Town premiers Oct. 21 at Admiral Theater; Q & A with Director Tomasz Biernacki
A new documentary film “Trickle Down Town” by West Seattle film maker and artist Tomasz Biernacki looks at the issue of homelessness in Seattle with a focus on the West Seattle area. Coverage of the film appeared previously in Westside Seattle. The film will premier at the Admiral Theater on Oct. 21 at 7pm. Tickets are available in advance ONLY through www.pechara.com but are FREE. Westside Seattle as official media sponsor for the film posed a series of questions to Biernacki to provide some background in advance of the film opening.
What do you see as the single most misunderstood issue regarding the homeless?
That they are criminals, lazy, drug addicts and shiftless. In reality they have the same passion for life that you and I have and are trying to get out of homelessness. Majority of them are basically priced out of the housing rental market. They are people like you and I. Many would live in the cheap SRO's that no longer exist. (SRO = Single room occupancy, or "flop house") I met one couple while filming who lives in a sanctioned camp because the husband got sick (failed kidney) and lost his highly demanding tech job in Seattle because he couldn't keep up with the younger techies.. Yeah, let that one sink in for a moment. To me the biggest issue is that as a whole we are missing what this is really about.
Many places around the world face this issue and some are dealing with it in innovative ways. What has proven to work best?
A functioning social system, better access to medical services (physical and mental), functioning education system, a functioning criminal justice system, basically any society that focuses on the citizen first and corporate interests second will always have a higher happiness index and healthier society. I heard this the other day: "Americans see a homeless person and ask, what did that person do to fail? a French sees a homeless person and they ask what did society do to fail that person"
Where do you see the homeless issue in Seattle in five years? What about ten years from now?
I think this will get much worse before it get better. The systemic issues that have hollowed out the middle class are alive and well. Opportunities, education, healthcare and community is what will fix this. This is not a Seattle issue. I recently met political leaders from California looking for solutions in Seattle. We might be more progressive on trying to find solutions then other places but this is a national issue for sure.
The idea of a Universal Basic Income has been around for a long time. Would some kind of stipend help certain homeless people who meet specific criteria? Isn’t it just welfare with a new face?
I have heard some interesting podcasts on this over the last few years. It's a fascinating topic. I dont see it as welfare. If automation and AI will replace a large portion of blue and white collar jobs then what are we supposed to do? I believe Bill Gates recently stated that the robot that replaces your job should pay taxes. There are some very smart economists who think we should at least test this and others who think we need to start implementing some forms of this ASAP.
What is the demographic profile of the homeless in Seattle? Is it changing?
I do not know if it's changing, I think the people experiencing homelessness represent the same demographics of the housed population. If I had to profile and simplify it for the general audience, I would say there 3 distinct groups, and just to be clear these are my own observations. I see lots of people with physical disabilities or work related injuries, I see people with general mental health issues that go undiagnosed. I see people struggling to make ends meet and one little personal disaster puts them out. At the sanctiond camps i see many people who work full or part time, go to school, are elderly or just straight up disabled. Lots of elderly and disabled people. There are also people out there who are heavily addicted to drugs. I address this in the film. I myself do not understand it, i think most people do not what these heavy drugs do to the mind.
Are you in favor of the sweeps of homeless camps conducted by the police?
The question I ask myself would be are we actually helping? Or are we just creating more pain in the lives of people who already live horrific and painful existence. It's pointless (and I would guess against the law) to force people to accept services if they dont want them. Regardless if they are out there because of drug addictions that they have no control over or because of mental disorders, or just because they dont want to participate in any of this, are we helping them by pushing them around the city from place to place? I think some people would like to just give them a bus ticket to somewhere else, but is that who we really are as a society? Is that even legal? Perhaps we can send some to Los Angeles? Perhaps Los Angeles can send some to us? Does any of that make any sense? Can we force someone to get treatment? Will that forced treatment work and take hold? I have had some really in depth conversations about addiction with ex drug addicts and the reality is that only the person who is addicted can choose to seek treatment. This is a topic I do go into in the film and it's extremely complex issue that I think we, as a city will continue to struggle with.
What impact do you hope Trickle Down Town will have?
I hope to humanise the homeless population and have people recognise themselves, their neighbors and family members n the people I feature. I want them to get involved and start becoming part of the solution.
Why did you choose to not use it as a fundraiser?
I just want people to see it. The film presents different projects and people who are actually doing someting. I myself got heavily involved in building tiny homes at Camp Second Chance and I feel that the people who are moved by the story will find their own room and lean forward and get involved.
Can you point to any success stories of people who have been at Camp Second Chance or elsewhere in Seattle and pulled it together to become independent?
Yes, but these are private people who often do not want to discuss it as they see it as part of the life they rather forget. There are advocates out there like Susan Russell who was homeless for number of years and can really tell you some horrific stories! I know folks that used to live at camp second chance who have recently moved to permanent housing and ones that are well on their way to a better life. I see it everyday as I spend time there.
How can people help the homeless most effectively?
Rex Hohlbein of Facing Homelessness will tell you to "Just Say Hello". I highly recommend people google his TED talk. I think the most effective way to do it, if one really wants to help is to reach inside yourself, find what your passion is and start. When I started on my journey, I didn't know were it would take me. I found my place at Camp Second chance were I feel I can be most effective. Other people have other interests and skills. It's going to take all of us to solve this.
Do you have any plans to make another film or a sequel to Trickle Down Town?
I filmed so many interviews, and 90% of what I filmed ended up cut out because of time limit. I have some amazing interviews that I might put out on youtube as little stand alone pieces. Beyond that I have been thinking to continue to film interviews and document people's lives, but that would take away from what I'm doing now. I made this movie by myself. I basically did not sleep for 5 months. I think my wife would like to have me back for a while before I even think about another project.
The gal with the motor home is sort of attractive, slim, trim, healthy and seemingly adventurous. She appears to be sane. We're about the same age. Wonder if she'd go with me this winter as I travel across Europe from Spain to Italy, Greece and back into Austria and Germany? Umm maybe Poland too?
If that works out she can accompany me as I sail to the South Pacific for a lengthy time. That is if she can put up with lack of sleep, stand her watches, and get through her sea sickness.
What about it, motor home girl? Do you speak a foreign language? I have Spanish covered, how about French or German?