Graffiti spells out "transpire" beneath a bridge where several homeless people have set up camp. Staring at this word each morning and night must be especially painful for this group. Try as they might, some of them can't escape the difficulties life has dealt them: addiction, physical disabilities, mental illness, or broken families. They seem stuck, unable to pass through the mire of challenges that made them homeless in the first place.
This scene is from Street Pulse, a movie the Wisconsin Film Festival screened at the UW Elvehjem Building on Saturday. It's not one of those dramas about easy-to-root-for underdogs. It's a documentary about real people trying to get by in Madison, despite some very deep-rooted problems. In addition to introducing us to some of our community's least visible members, director Marc Kornblatt shows what it's like to live on the margins, where being ignored is an everyday occurrence. This is also the focus of the local newspaper Street Pulse, which homeless individuals can sell to help make ends meet.
Street Pulse isn't a downer of a film, though, and neither is the publication it's named after. Kornblatt gathers some frustrating information about forces that perpetuate homelessness, but he also uncovers a gem of a relationship between two of his subjects, Robert and Angel.
Robert is a 51-year-old man who describes himself as a recovering addict who's "programmed to be a prisoner." Angel is his 22-year-old wife who grapples with bipolar disorder and the effects of being born several months premature. On paper, these two seem like an odd couple, but somehow they work. They make more progress together than they did before they met. Over the course of the film, one of them gets a job and the other starts studying to become a paralegal. They find indoor shelter and eventually secure an apartment of their own.
This documentary made me aware of several troubling facts about homelessness in Madison, like how hard it is for homeless couples to obtain housing, even if they have motivation, social support and valuable tools such as phones and computers. According to one of the advocates for the homeless that Kornblatt interviews, most of the available housing goes to individuals with severe disabilities or families with young children. But Robert and Angel present a kernel of hope as well.
Though many types of impairments can make caring for oneself next to impossible, the outlook becomes a bit brighter when there comes an opportunity to protect and care for someone else. It's yet another reason for those of us who've found stability to acknowledge and connect with our neighbors for whom this hasn't yet transpired.