We see homeless people often. We may never look at them. We are not sure we want to acknowledge them—even less know them. Homeless tries to give us a bit of the experience of homelessness. Of course, no movie could ever give us the full reality of homelessness, but filmmaker Clay Riley Hassler does a very good job of giving us a sense of what that might be like. Although it is fictional, it is just as true of an experience as a documentary might be.
This is the story of Gosh (“Josh with a G”), eighteen years old and alone. He lives in a shelter. During the day, he wanders the city, goes to the library where he can get online thanks to a temporary library card, go to the mall, but not buy anything. His life is pretty empty. He is wary of the other people in the shelter so he is very isolated. A good part of the film is not so much plot oriented as it is giving us the experience of routine and emptiness. When things in Gosh’s life reach a low point he meets a few people who offer him help. He begins to have hope for the future in spite of the realities of the present. But it will still be difficult to escape from his predicament, and viewers should not expect a rosy ending.
We get glimpses of Gosh’s life before his homelessness, but we don’t see all that went on to brinng him to this point. But then, does it really matter? Should we care more or less about a homeless person because of a backstory we will never know? In Gosh, we see a sympathetic character who is struggling with hard times. We see that he is not a degenerate or mentally ill or addicted. He has had a difficult time that is made more difficult by being homeless. The very fact that he is homeless makes it difficult to fill out a job application. It’s hard to address hygiene issues when homeless, so people are not likely to want to be around you. Yet there are those who accept him and offer to help. But they also have their own struggles and dreams that may seem far off.
Of course the reason we sympathize with Gosh is that we get to know him. It is not often we get a chance to see into a life as we can in a film that reflects reality such as Homeless. That allows us to consider how we think about the homeless people we see but so often not really see. Many religions, and definitely Christianity, call on us to provide some sort of generosity or care for those who are poor or homeless. Yet we often find many reasons to either not do it, or pay someone to do it on our behalf. Perhaps that is because we always keep them at a distance. We don’t get to know them, and so we don’t have the opportunity to care about them for who they are.