Wednesday night my wife and I watched Cinderella Man, Ron Howard's 2005 biography of boxer James J. Braddock starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger. Howard will never have an reputation as an avant garde pioneer, but it was a well made and entertaining movie and I'd recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.
I don't think that anyone involved with the movie or anyone watching it in 2005 could have anticipated how resonant its themes of suffering, perseverance and solidarity in the face of economic crisis would seem in 2009. I really made that connection now, though. One of the scenes that took the troubles of the time beyond one family's struggle was Braddock's visit to Central Park's Hooverville. While I don't have a clip of that segment, the following brief video gives some idea of what Hoovervilles must have been like. (It also shows, by the way, that Bing Crosby wasn't always the sentimental, avuncular type people today think of him as. Both his attitude and his voice are a little sharp and bluesy here.)
Of course there were homeless people when Cinderella Man was made, but I don't think it was as bad then as it is now. When I'm at work and I want to go out for lunch I go to the pedestrian mall a block away. Years ago it had a lot of homeless people, but they mainly fell into two categories, the long-term homeless who seemed to have substance abuse problems and teenagers who often seemed to have skateboards. Then Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper introduced a 10 Year Master Plan to reduce homelessness, and it seemed to be working. Lately, though, as you might expect, it's been getting worse again. What was just the occasional person looking for help now feels like a gauntlet to be run. The demographics have changed, too. There seem to be a lot of adults in their prime years who are new to the streets.
Across the country tent cities have been springing up. The one that has had the most publicity in in Sacramento, as seen on Oprah and in this clip from MSNBC:
These tent cities and these panhandlers on the streets are just the visible edge of a much larger problem, too. According to a recent report (web site summary pdf full report pdf) by the National Center on Family Homelessness that has received a lot of attention 1 in 50 children faces homelessness. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean in the streets or in a shelter. It appears to include situations like having to stay with someone else.Still, It is shameful that things have come to such a pass in a country that has been so richly blessed. They are likely to get even worse, too, before they get better.
Today's Daily Office, the Bible readings appointed for today, includes this from Psalm 76: "From the heavens you uttered judgement; the earth feared and was still when God rose up to establish judgement, to save all the oppressed of the earth," and this jeremiad from Jeremiah 5: "For scoundrels are found among my people... they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek... and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this?" This Lent, I need to focus more on what my role is in creating homelessness and what more I can do to help to end it.