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I lived homeless in Denver for a couple of months and made a documentary with hidden camera spy glasses.

Mar 2nd 2013 by capnjasbo • 22 Questions • 833 Points

My friend dropped me off blindfolded, barefoot, and with no money or ID.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kpz211cpv8 & POVHOBO.blogspot.com

Before you waste your time read the most objective review:

"I did enjoy your documentary, and I, too, found it eyeopening, but I think 'sloppy' is an understatement. Parts of it seem very professional (premise, execution, storytelling) but the soundtrack and ridiculous voice-over that you do when describing a hobo-term really detract from the experience. You have enough here to really say something and I commend you for having the balls to go through with this, but the amateurish and downright immature nature of some of the audio presentation has got to be reworked. Rerecord some of those things, get a less obtrusive and grating soundtrack, and you might really have something here. This isn't meant to insult in any way, this really is great. But parts of it are really keeping it from being ready for prime time."

Q:

Please Capnjasbo, post links to /r/documentary, /r/editing, /r/videography /r/docproduction

Ask around for help from Denver or Colorado film makers, someone is bound to want to help you. If I lived in Denver, I would help you but I don't.

I really believe this project needs proper professional attention and it could go far. Look at the response from this AMA from the Denver community members, you could have "Supersize me" level experiment which to lead to greater national attention to homelessness.

A:

Hey thanks for the feedback/advice. I don't live in Denver anymore either. I'm in Vietnam right now. I can always mail my footage, though. I'll see where things go with this AMA to decide what to do with it.


Q:

first impression 3 minutes in. the stupid voice-overs for the definitions of things are just that... stupid. they make it seem like you thought this was a big joke. i will continue watching

A:

Hey, thanks for continuing to watch. Most people didn't get that far...


Q:

The problem with trying to live homeless without actually being homeless is that deep down you know you can go home. I know you can experience the cold, hunger and isolation but you still have that security of knowing that if it get too rough you can get out. This kind of thing has been done countless times and whilst well intentioned makes no real difference. People are well aware of how homeless people have to live but it's society as a whole that lets it happen. Remember the wall street protests? If people rallied to this one cause, made clear that their vote would go to those that would end homelessness, it would be sorted. You may have been as well using any money spent to buy someone on the street a new sleeping bag and some decent shoes.

A:

Yeah I agree. I mention that in the section of my blog, "My Experience."

"My self-image was mutilated after just 2 weeks of people treating me like shit, despite knowing, (in the back of my head), I could get off the streets at any time. I can't fathom what it's like when you truly have no place to go."

That's why I made sure to have plenty of interviews with those who are (or have been) truly homeless.

Also, I think we need to agree on the best way to help before anything can change. If you watched the documentary you saw that shoes/sleeping bags weren't scarce in Denver. Throwing money at the problem doesn't help, but throwing money at the right organizations does ;) My favorite is Step13 who's slogan is: "real change, not spare change."

Also, maybe if we can make government assistance harder to take advantage of then those truly in need can be rationed more assistance. I'm not sure on the logistics of UA-ing but that seems like a good place to start.

For more thoughts on how to help: http://povhobo.blogspot.com/2012/09/okay-what-now.html


Q:

It's also important to clarify that homeless does not always mean living on the street. There are a lot of homeless people who sleep on friends' couches, live in shelters or temporary housing, etc. They are just as homeless as the people on the street.

A:

Amen! I hear so many stories and met so many people with a situation like yours. They explained how the assistance from the government was barely enough or not enough. Then I'd meet countless people who just use 100% of the money on drugs. That's why I think we should UA (among other things) to make sure people like your family can get enough assistance in the first place so you're never on the street.


Q:

What do you think the biggest misconception people have about the homeless is?

A:

Biggest misconception? That's a tough one, but if I had to choose one it'd be that giving spare change is helping.

I think the 2nd would be that people have an outdated perception of the homeless. In "developed countries" the causes and problems have changed. There's no shortage of food like in certain countries/time periods. As Alex, (the homeless kiwi in Vancouver), suggests I think we should (re)diagnose the causes of homelessness in order to truly help.


Q:

Hey, please provide proof by updating your site/twitter/facebook or something. Once this is done, i will reinstate the post, thanks.

A:

Updating my site? How so? I'm no longer homeless. I'm in Vietnam now. I updated my blog with links to this AMA. And I posted a link to this AMA on my facebook.


Q:

This is fucking great overall. It's a great and incredibly insightful story. With some editing you really have something here.

I hope this doesn't hurt your feelings, but I'd ditch all of the cartoony and jokey aspects/elements. The animated and morphed faces are slightly disturbing, distracting and remind me of A Scanner Darkly. (I'd use bars over eyes to provide the bare minimum of anonymity. It's still respectful, but just a little more accessible.)

Personally I don't think the presentation isn't sincere, but I imagine that the folks who will make or break your career as a film maker may find it to be. Only because some of those elements look "fun".

I really like this and it has very serious potential. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a slightly reworked version of this in the big festivals next year. GOOD LUCK and WORK IT OUT!!

Just one example of some of the brilliance going on here...one of the mix songs samples Black Flag's "Rise Above". That's good shit right there.

A:

F*ck my feelings, I posted something on the internet ;)

Right on, glad somebody gets the music. I agreed with most of the criticism except for the music. I didn't think they would be so harsh with the music.

I'm afraid of getting sued, but think the black bar would work great. You're really disconnected from a lot of the emotion when the faces are covered that much. Maybe that's why I tried to make up for it with all the unnecessary "flash." I just tried to make it interesting enough to keep people's attention while I got my message across. Plus, my style is just goofy. I can't take anything too seriously, but maybe the new edit can.

Thanks for the support and follow me on twitter or tumblr or something to see what else I crap out.

capnjasbo.tumblr.com


Q:

What was the most "eye-opening" thing you experienced?

A:

Ah! A question. It's hard to find them while sifting through hateful criticism. Hrmmm. Well, you don't make a documentary unless you're passionate enough to do so. So, I already knew about the easily accessible assistance programs & drugs being the #1 problem. BUT the most eye-opening experience was actually developing solid relationships with some of these folks and hearing their in depth perspective. Of those, the most shocking was the LGBT thing. Maybe those statistics aren't 100% accurate but the problem is real. You meet soooo many queer kids who get more love on the streets than they do at home. It's really sad that such an easily avoidable cause to homeless still happens to this day. It was shocking to me because the worst you hear is parent's making their gay child feel like sh*t with "pray away the gay pamphlets." But you'd never fathom someone literally kicking their kids out. You'd be surprised how many of the homeless are queer. & that's not just the younger generation. I met a bunch of older home bum types who were gay, but wouldn't admit it. They'd deny it but get hammered and start touching each other in the park. It got me thinking... 1.) some of them might be men who aren't actually born gay but more like truckers and prisoners who's sex drive has no other outlet. 2.) some of them are just from an older generation. Back in the day it was more common for gay men to hide it. Married men going to sketchy places to have secret gay sex. I don't know if you've met a gay man from that generation but it does major psychological damage and could even cause huge alcohol/drug problems & even lead to (you guessed it) homelessness. Yeah, that's a bit of a stretch, I know. But it's just a theory.


Q:

Did you actually use heroin?

A:

No, sir. I have never used heroin, crack, or meth. I see what it does to people. I don't mean to mislead. I just fell into getting stoned and drunk all day. There were countless times where I was offered harder drugs. While filming the close up drug use they wanted me to at least smoke heroin to prove I wasn't a cop. I insisted I'd rather delete the footage and I'd do anything else to gain their trust, but as they got higher they felt like dicks and just dropped it.

Just for the record, Alex, the homeless kiwi, mentioned that he fell into the depression but never did any drugs. Also, I have a background of alcoholism so I'm sure that didn't help. But most people on the streets are there partially 'cuz of their addictive personalities.


Q:

I also believe that the public won't can't help those who won't help themselves.

A:

It's up to debate on how to help, but I think I know where to start. In the video Bo says, "I spent a couple really, really, really cold nights out there and that was more motivation than any." IMHO, if you want to help: treat them with respect and give the tough love ultimatum: streets or sober. Seems simple enough to me, but it's hard to get everyone on the same page.


Q:

If anything this just makes me proud to see so many people giving back to what is widely considered a detestable portion of our society. This video showed that it doesn't matter if you are really even homeless, if you are in a situation where you need one of the services provided by the charitable groups shown in this video, its totally ok to utilize those resources. Thats why they are there.

Too much emphasis is put upon how severe the "need" for these "free" services are... IMO if you feel like you need it, then you do. To rise up out of an impoverished scenario is to liberate oneself from the feeling of dependence on others. It has nothing to do with fiscal or personal responsibility. It has to do with sharing the collective dream of living contentedly.

I am curious to hear whether or not OP got involved in giving back after he completed this project.

A:

I just finished editing the project so in short: not really. I justify my laziness by "making people aware" being my form of help.

Here's my page on how to help: http://povhobo.blogspot.com/2012/09/okay-what-now.html

Also, it was surprising to meet people on the streets (usually southern) who were too prideful to take "hand outs." I respect their work ethic but wish they weren't so dogmatic 'cuz they would clearly utilize the help for the better.


Q:

Did you experience any of the ultra-violence?

A:

"Ultra-violence?" I think that was my poorly recorded narration where I attempt to say, "It's no surprise 'The Triangle' attracts a lot of violent crime and is flanked by two of the biggest homeless shelters."

I lucked out but you hear a lot of messed up stories about the street. CTRL-F search this reddit post for "rape" to hear a story a fireman told me.


Q:

I'm on my phone so I haven't watched it yet. I'm a little worried I'm going to be on this video. I spend five days a week on the Auraria campus and some days i am patient and give money/food, but some days i get real annoyed and ignore them. I guess just my own anxiety on whether or not I'm treating others like they are human all the time makes your project effective. It does make me have a mini panic feeling when i see some homeless people and i just think about how hopeless they must feel everyday. I couldn't imagine living like that.

A:

Auraria campus has a church that feeds all the time. If you feel bad you can give them a coupon from Step13.org or you can go to the St. Francis day shelter. They have a long list/schedule of places around Denver that feed the homeless.


Q:

I would be interested in watching a "sister" video to this from the perspective of a female. I think the problems that women face, while not necessarily more dire, are different.

A:

I would love to see one. Because women face "different" problems there are shelters/programs specifically for women & children. I was staying at one shelter and overheard the staff talking about a "lady coming in who just got raped and is pretty shooken up."

Also, in some of the footage I lost I interviewed a fireman who said he was on a murder/rape call. When he got to the abandoned building he walked up to someone covered in a blanket. Turns out the guy got raped and they threw the girlfriend off the roof.

I really lucked out. I hear a lot of stories of gnarly stuff that goes on on the streets...


Q:

This was extremely well done for an independent project, it really is eye opening. To complain is absurd: if you've ever tried to make an independent film, it's fuckin hard. I love it... A guy working hard, putting solid video online, trying to help people, for free... And we're still gonna bitch about the production value. My fuck...

A:

Thanks. I put a lot of money and time into this sh*tty project. I want to act noble and say, "as long as the message gets out," but that's bullshit. I'm bummed that some people literally couldn't get through it. Still worth it though :)


Q:

There is nothing I fear more than homelessness. I would rather kill myself.

A:

Lawl. So, I mentioned somewhere in this AMA that I lucked out 'cuz there's a lot of gnarly stuff that happens on the street. BUT I have to say that most people are kind hearted.

Restore your faith in humanity by watching this PBS documentary about these 2 guys who travel the world and find hospitality in the most dangerous places.

http://www.wliw.org/marcopolo/


Q:

That was good man, what you did and how you did it was good. It opened my eyes a lot. It actually makes me feel worse for the homeless here in the UK. I don't think they have as much access to food as they do there. I have given homeless people food and the looks in their eyes says it all. It makes me want to do more now. Thanks for sharing this!

A:

Thanks! I'm glad you had that response. Most people just get so irritated they don't want to help at all. I've never been to the UK so I'll keep my mouth shut on that, but maybe if I do a quality version of this I'll gather more footage while homeless there.


Q:

So far I thinks its great had to close my eyes when people started shooting heroin, shit just bothers me

A:

Yeah, it freaked me out too. I'm a huge pussy when getting blood drawn at the doctors. But being behind a camera helps for some reason. Also, I was going for the "scared straight" approach with the close up drug use scene so I'm glad it bugged you? :P


Q:

Great idea. Terrible audio quality, terrible music and terrible voiceovers for the definitions of the slang makes this video UNWATCHABLE. You should really redo this or find someone to collaborate with you on this to help you make it better. I'm sure a million people would love to help you with this project. I wouldn't call it finished yet.

A:

I'm surprised on the music comments. I agree on all the other stuff being sh*tty, but can you elaborate on the music? Not that I know what I'm doing, but I don't want the typical ambient, sad, violin music. Was it the genre or quality? Or just that it didn't suit the message?


Q:

Good video, pretty real. The reality kinda irks me though. It's like, "look at all this you can get for free if you just give up". Homeless people are certainly an economic issue or more accurately a burden. Yea, drugs keep you down and society isn't going to want you when you're homeless but all the aid acts as an enabler. Feeling sorry for the homeless proves to be a waste of time more often then not. Talk about an endless money pit. Sounds harsh but I think my comments are as real as the video. I have sympathy as a human being but as a citizen I just don't give a shit about them. However, I guess the real problem is that humans can't be trusted with their reproductive organs.

A:

I think the biggest problems are the incentives within "the system."

You have some extreme statements so I bet your head would explode if you were in the line of a homeless shelter hearing people say, "If you start working you're not gonna' get those food stamps anymore."

Or advice between people on disability saying, "I just work as much as I can until I'm about to reach the monthly limit. Then I just call in until the next month."

Or a guy in the shelter asking me about where to find work. After I reply with a long list of programs he replies with, "Well, it has to be under the table or I won't get disability anymore."

I'm not trying to justify this behavior but I don't blame them. We all take advantage of loop holes (like torrenting media) if easily accessible. I'm not sure on the logistics but we need a system that gives you more benefits the harder you work. Or at least drug tests people getting government assistance...


Q:

Throwing some dirt on yourself wouldn't make anyone just "look" homeless.

A:

If you stay in shelters it's actually hard to stay dirty. If you sleep on the top floor of the Denver Rescue Mission they force you to shower. If you want a blanket and a pillow you have to come out of the shower. I found it's the big hobo pack that makes you look homeless more than anything. It's the home bums that have those beaver mullet dread things and stained skin. You'd be surprised how many homeless people are dressed flashy from thrift clothes.