Acclaimed, award-winning journalist, producer and filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi - who has built a reputation with playful and provocative HBO documentaries about George Bush, Ted Haggard and the American electorate - shifts her focus to a serious social issue that has been exacerbated by the recent economic downturn:
homelessness among children of the working poor.
HOMELESS: THE MOTEL KIDS OF ORANGE COUNTY explores the world of children who reside in discounted motels within walking distance of Disneyland, living in limbo as their families struggle to survive in one of the wealthiest regions of America. The parents of motel kids are often hard workers who don't earn enough to own or rent homes. As a result, they continue to live week-to-week in motels, hoping against hope for an opportunity that might allow them to move up in the O.C.
The toll of this lifestyle on their children is severe. Though the community tries to provide adequate education and food, the day-to-day lives of motel kids are often a numbing exercise in frustrating constraints and ever-diminishing expectations.
Interview subjects in HOMELESS: THE MOTEL KIDS OF ORANGE COUNTY include:
Rudee, age six, sleeps between her parents in a queen-size motel bed and says the worst place she ever slept was the bushes, which was "embarrassing." Though her father works as a mechanic, apartment rent in Orange County is too high for the family to afford. Still, they don't consider moving, and are content to pay $870 a month to live at the motel. Noting that all her brothers and sisters own houses, Rudee's mother looks forward to better times, saying, "We're survivors. The economy's going down, but we're not feeling it, because we are already there."
Deanna and Dylan, ages seven and nine, moved into a motel with the family of a friend after their mother died. While Deanna tap dances to pass the time, Dylan dreams of becoming a "football player or Spider-Man." He often climbs and swings on motel banisters, defying a neighboring resident the kids call "the wicked witch" because she yells at them for making noise. Asked if he has one wish for the summer, Dylan answers, "To re-do my life."
Like any brothers, nine-year-old Dilan and seven-year-old Ben have their share of outbursts, but living in a single motel room with two other siblings and their parents amplifies those incidents. Their mom works night shifts at a hospital, leaving their dad, who recently lost his job, to take care of the kids when they're not in school. At Project Hope, their ten-year-old sister Celine shares the same classroom with her brothers, because grades two through four are combined. The teacher tells Celine she "doesn't have to be the big sister" in class, but she finds it difficult to focus.
Friends Brenda and Meygan, both age 11, live in separate rooms, but share a common affliction: bedbugs. "Only some" of the rooms are bedbug-free, the girls note, adding that management often takes infested beds outside, only to reuse them a few days later.
The Brewster family, a widow and her four kids, shares a single motel room with their four small dogs. The mother works in the parking department of Disneyland, and doesn't make enough to rent an apartment, despite help from 16-year-old Allie, who works at McDonald's. Zach, age 11, recently appeared in juvenile court for burglary. His latest "stunt," damaging motel property, cost the family its room. Asked where they're moving, Zach responds, "I don't know and I don't care."
Gabriel, age seven, has grown up with violence. The class tough-guy with a Mohawk haircut, he is seen attending the funeral of his mother's boyfriend, who lived with the family in the motel before he was beaten and killed. Asked by a teacher, "What are your rights?," he replies, "The right to remain silent."
Cassidy, age eight, is a shy blonde with cheerleading aspirations, though she already seems beaten down by life. It doesn't help when she's forced to shave her head - to get rid of lice.
Kiera, age nine, is a conscientious child who hopes to become a doctor. She and her mom share one room with a family who has a newborn baby. Though Kiera is "scared" of living in the midst of violence and drugs, she is the pride of her mom, who says tearfully that the family's motto is "Never give up."
HOMELESS: THE MOTEL KIDS OF ORANGE COUNTY is the sixth HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, who made the 2002's Emmy® winner "Journeys with George" and 2004's "Diary of a Political Tourist." She subsequently spotlighted evangelical Christians in "Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi" and "The
Trials of Ted Haggard," followed by last year's "Right America: Feeling Wronged - Some Voices from the Campaign Trail."
HOMELESS: THE MOTEL KIDS OF ORANGE COUNTY was directed, produced and filmed by Alexandra Pelosi. For HBO: senior producer, Lisa Heller; executive
producer, Sheila Nevins