“What is home to you?”
“I don’t really know what that means,” says Rudee, age 6, while she stands outside of the motel where her family sleeps. Rudee continues to describe the worst place she ever slept, “The bushes. It was embarrassing.” Rudee is one of almost 300,000 children who experience homelessness every year in California.
Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County, an HBO Documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, follows the lives of multiple families living in motels in one of the richest counties in the country. Pelosi does an excellent job of capturing the roller coaster ride of emotions experienced by children and their families when living in an unstable environment. The children are surprisingly candid when talking to the camera. They eagerly take Pelosi on a tour of the motel – the cramped rooms in which they live, the tubs where they wash their clothes, and the alleys where they play hide and seek.
The majority of their parents are employed, but cannot quite save enough money to afford an apartment in a county where the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment hovers around $1,600 per month. While listening to Pelosi speak with the parents, viewers have a palpable sense of how tired and helpless these families feel.
Under the 2001 Federal McKinney-Vento Act, all individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence – including those living in motels – are considered homeless. Many of the children living in the motels featured in this documentary attend the Project Hope School. Project Hope is a K-8 public school that is open year-round and caters to families who are without a permanent residence.
Many of the positive aspects highlighted in this documentary about the Project Hope School, such as free meals and customized transportation to and from school, are required and carried out in all public schools under the McKinney-Vento Act. According to America’s Youngest Outcasts, less than one in four homeless children will graduate from high school. The McKinney-Vento Act has assisted schools in identifying students experiencing homelessness and helped to make sure that their needs are met.
The Motel Kids of Orange County is an eye-opening film that captures the continuing struggle of American families desperately trying to make ends meet. The children featured in this documentary are up against many more challenges than any child deserves to face.
To learn more about children experiencing homelessness:
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