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Interview with Alexandra Pelosi

Kid with book

HBO

How did you come to make this film?

ALEXANDRA PELOSI

I made political documentaries for a while and then I had children. After you have children you start to see the world through their eyes. I saw a statistic that one in fifty children in America experience homelessness. And that seemed so shocking. One in fifty kids? I wanted to meet some of them.

HBO

What drew you to Orange County?

ALEXANDRA PELOSI

People know Orange County for its billion dollar surf and skate industry, and they think of it as being cool and sexy, like we see it on TV in shows like the "OC." But I wanted to show a different side of Orange County -- the working poor who don't have a place to sleep tonight.  I thought it was important for people to see the other side of the Orange County.

HBO

These are people we don't normally see on TV.

ALEXANDRA PELOSI

What people don't realize is that the recession made a lot more people homeless in America. This film could have been made in any zip code in America. Homeless is no longer what you thought it was. It's not a mentally-ill drug addicted hobo begging for change on the street corner. It's the people working  at Wal-Mart, Disneyland, Home Depot- working at minimum wage jobs all across America.

HBO

You shot in different motels in Orange County where the homeless live. What did you discover in these communities?

ALEXANDRA PELOSI

Most people don't even realize how many homeless families there are living in Orange County. There is a foundation called The Illumination Foundation that deals with placing families in these motels. And there is a special school called The Hope School that is just for homeless children. So, if the kids move from their motel to a shelter or to their car, they still have a place to go to school.

"What I loved about these kids is, no matter how bad their environment may be, they are resilient, their spirits are not broken."

HBO

How do you gain the trust of these people?

ALEXANDRA PELOSI

I made friends with the kids. All the kids I was following go to Hope School. So I met them at school, and then I went to see where they were living - in shelters, cars, motels.

What I loved about these kids is, no matter how bad their environment may be, they are resilient, their spirits are not broken. Most people think of homeless people as being down and out. But the people I met are working. They have jobs, and are proud of the work they do.

The hotels where these kids are living are infested with drug dealers and sex offenders. Not the kind of people you want your kids to be around.  But these parents don't have a choice.  That's the best lifestyle they can afford to give their kids because they don't have enough affordable housing in Orange County.

If you go to work, and you're working forty hours a week, you should be able to afford a roof over your head.  I don't think that any kid in America should go to bed hungry or without a roof over their head.  Do you?

HBO

What impact did the film have on you personally, seeing these families living like this?

ALEXANDRA PELOSI

Most  mothers in America says to their kids, "Eat your dinner, there are children starving in Africa." I say to my kids, "There are children starving in California." And they know its true because I brought my kids to the soup kitchen with me and they didn't like it very much, so when they complain about my cooking, I remind them about how lucky they are!

HBO

What do you like most about making documentary films?

ALEXANDRA PELOSI

I like hanging out with people.  That's the greatest thing about this job, I get to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life.  And I get to give people who you never see on TV a voice.  We're giving a voice to people that never get on television.  When would homeless kids get a chance to tell their story? This film puts a new face on the homeless.  And it's not the face that you expect.  It's the sweet little six year old girl who has to sleep in a run-down motel.  It's not the drunk, mentally ill person living in an alley that people think of when they think of the homeless. And that's what I think is nice about what HBO does.  They give people a voice -- people that would never have a voice.

HBO

Where are the subjects today?

ALEXANDRA PELOSI

The sad part about this story is -  there may not be a happy ending for these kids even though they are living in 'the happiest place on earth' because there isn't enough affordable housing in Orange County.

All across the country, more and more  people are living at or below the poverty line.  That's something that people need to realize. People think that they don't see the homeless every day, but you do see them when they are ringing you up at Walmart and McDonalds and Disneyland.  This movie is about the working poor in America who don't ever see themselves on TV. And that's why I think it's important that HBO is giving them their night.

Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County

Summer Series 2010