Each year, one week before Thanksgiving (which this year is November 16 – 22), National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. My son’s school is taking part and our family is doing our "little" part, in helping with the hunger issue. If everyone does their "little" part maybe we can make sure that no one goes hungry this Thanksgiving. Go to nationalhomeless.org for more information and ideas of things you can do.
Tonight, November 15, 2008, at 9:00 EST, the Hallmark Channel premieres Accidental Friendship. From the Hallmark Channel’s press release,
“Accidental Friendship,” a Hallmark Channel Original Movie starring Chandra Wilson, Ben Vereen and Kathleen Munroe, is the true-life story of Yvonne Caldwell (played by Wilson), a middle class working woman whose spiral from work and ownership to desperation, destitution, and pushing a buggy on the streets is a sad and familiar tale. Caldwell is befriended by empathetic LAPD officer Tami Baumann out of the love they each have for dogs, and a friendship – tenuous at first – takes hold.
When Wilson, Munroe and Vereen accepted their roles, they took on an experience that not only gave them great acting challenges, but helped open their eyes to the lives of the homeless.
Says Vereen, who plays Wes Smith, a streetbound friend of Yvonne’s, “Having the chance to have that little, vague glimpse into that world is an honor.”
To most of us, they are nameless panhandlers, people living on the fringe of humanity, surviving on the street, barely fending off hunger, poverty and worse. We can’t understand why they would continue to choose such a life or how they even got in such a predicament. “Why don’t they just get help?” we ask ourselves.
As the three actors learned, any of us could easily be in the same spot as the homeless around us.
“Most of us feel like we’re immune to this,” says the real Tami Baumann (who is played by Munroe). “I’ve known many police officers who have gone through a divorce or lost a home – where do they go? Los Angeles is so expensive and the cost of housing puts even full-time working people at risk.”
Says Munroe, “There are a great number of people who had a home and a job and have lost them. Homelessness is hitting home for a lot of people in a big way, especially through this foreclosure crisis.”
Most of us think of homeless people as either mentally ill or alcoholic, though Wilson notes that isn’t always the case. “That’s only about 50% of the homeless population out there. Every case is different.”
Yvonne indeed does have an alcohol problem, but, Munroe says, “This film is a nice piece because it doesn’t play into the negative stereotypes at all. Her alcoholism and homelessness are definitely not incidental because they account for her situation, but you get to know her human side. You can appreciate the person that’s struggling and all of her complexities.”
“Any of us at any time are two paychecks away, one disaster away, one illness away, from being out on the streets,” adds Wilson.
“If you’re the kind of person that blames everybody and everything for why you don’t have what you need in life, then you’re set on a path to make some big mistakes. That’s where Yvonne was in this story. You can convince yourself that this is your choice, and when you want to do something different, you’ll do something different. We don’t realize how bad our circumstance is until we get out of it. The financial crisis today is ensuring that more and more people will never be able to step out from the streets.”
Adds Munroe, “Most of us think of them as people that just decided to quit. But, think about children and how filled with promise they are. No one ever begins in life just to quit.”
It can be a struggle for the homeless to accept help, as Wilson shows in her portrayal of Yvonne as she resists getting treatment for her alcoholism.
“There is a real fear, as Chandra portrays so well, of not being able to make it,” says Munroe. “What if it doesn’t happen? What if she can’t do it? What if she’s not good enough? And without a really substantial support system, it could be impossibly hard.”
Even giving up their meager belongings might make or break an attempt at help. “With Yvonne, it meant she’d have to give up that basket full of crap to fix herself,” Baumann recalls.
“They’re very attached to their basket. It’s nothing but their blanket they sleep on and whatever else that’s their little stash, but it’s their whole world.”
“Yvonne’s is not a Cinderella story. All of her problems don’t resolve at the end of the movie. But today, Yvonne is in treatment and determined to be well. You root for her, heart and soul,” says Wilson.
Baumann’s heart and soul reaches out to those she serves in the very tough LA neighborhood around the 77th Station. “The rise in everyday staples and the declining value of minimum wage has put so many people at risk of being homeless. My heart breaks when I see people working full-time jobs living in doorways and alleys, and any of us could be there and be them.”
Hallmark Channel’s “Hitting Home” encourages every day people to reach out charitably to those on the fringes of life. In catastrophes near and far, Americans are #1 in giving, even when it hurts! Even in recession charitable giving has never fallen as far as the economy.
It is hard to fathom that there are 750,000 homeless Americans who are literally ignored either intentionally or subconsciously. It seems that people feel threatened by homeless people. I’m not sure if this is because they feel that a homeless person is beneath them or out of fear. Fear that it could be them. I believe it is the latter. In today’s economy many of us could be two or three paychecks away from being homeless.
Just think "if it were you and/or your family, would you want to be ignored?" Tonight watch Accidental Friendship, and get inspired. And as a side note, Chandra Wilson who stars in Grey’s Anatomy is a phenomenal actress and I look forward to seeing her in this role.