Homeless & Poor Kids: Making Movies While Poverty Explodes

Amy Sterling Casil
Dec 29, 2016 · 8 min read

It’s such a small world.

Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra, recently in the news as an Elector for the Electoral College from California, is also a documentary filmmaker and author living in New York City. Her most recent film for HBO (August, 2016) was Meet the Donors, about “Why billionaires pour millions into elections.” She told an interviewer from The Observer that Joe Kennedy III told Richard Plepler (head of HBO) that she should make the film.

Trailer for Alexandra Pelosi’s 2010 HBO documentary

But before that, six years ago, she went to the motel rooms of Orange County in Southern California where I live, and interviewed a variety of families living there. The interviews comprise this documentary film which, near as I can tell, made absolutely no difference to anyone’s life whatsoever, except possibly: the filmmaker’s.

In 1988, I went to the city Council in Redlands, CA, one of my two hometowns, and told the assembled group, “There are families living in cars under the freeway overpasses in our town.” The Council didn’t believe me at first. Only after I gave them a tour and they saw what were at that time termed “Welfare motels” and a family “making do” in a car parked under a less-traveled overpass did they believe me.

For the next ten years, I spent my time trying to fix that in Redlands, the larger area in Eastern San Bernardino County, and eventually, at a state level with the Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD), and even nationally. In the early 90s, I was invited to go to Washington, D.C. to testify before Congress about ways to help families — in my case almost 100% of those we knew were single mothers with children — move out of poverty. The idea was to help them get decent jobs, find a decent place to live, and strengthen their lives and the lives of their children. During that time, we worked with over 2,000 families.

Later, from 2005–2011, I returned to the nonprofit field and served as an executive for the noted Los Angeles organization Beyond Shelter.

None of the women I helped start businesses or move out of homelessness during that later time in Los Angeles is “doing okay” right now. I don’t know about those families in Redlands area. I would guess that no more than 10% are “okay” right now. As the middle class has suffered mightily since the 2008 mortgage crisis, America’s poor have exploded. Those who have suffered the worst are the children.

No documentary film is going to solve this. Unlike the lady with the camera who neither knows nor is likely capable of understanding or caring about the role our citizenry and governance have played in this disaster, I know exactly what put those families in those motels and I know that today, more than ever, it is almost impossible for them to “get out” even with all the help in the world.

Almost 50% of US Children now live in poor or low-income households

Here’s why the families are in the motels:

  1. They have very low incomes (<$1,500 a month), no credit and no savings.
  2. The parents are working 1, 2 or 3 low paying or part-time jobs to get by, i.e. pay the motel, food, etc.
  3. It’s more cost-effective to stay at the motel because there are no utility bills, water and trash are paid.
I took 5 seconds to find a lower-priced apartment complex in Anaheim, CA — a lower priced area and with “some affordable units”

So, the family would have to have at least $4,620 in monthly income to qualify for one of the lower priced 2-bedroom units at this complex.

If Mom is taking home $1,600 a month, she can technically “afford” $533 a month in rent. There not only isn’t any place, including Studio apartments, available for that — in Orange County, there isn’t any place in the state of California renting for that without some type of housing subsidy.

I know what I am talking about. I did this for a living and managed to put deals together for hundreds — in Redlands-area years ago — over 2,000 families. Back then it was possible, because there were more affordable places, even houses, and individual landlords willing to help or cut some of these ladies/families a little bit of slack.

In Los Angeles, it was increasingly difficult. To make matters worse, most of these families living on the edge have already used up any temporary or emergency help available to them. This is literal hand-to-mouth.

When I tell people “We are living in Dickensian times,” a few believe me. The others just ignore me or look the other way.

I think in the 80s and maybe the first few years of the 90s, we had a shot. We certainly made an impact in San Bernardino County. But greed has taken over.

I started writing this article because I had discovered, to my shock, that … bear with me here …

This nice lady gave over $16 million From Rockefeller Foundation to Doug Band/Teneo

Judith Rodin, former President of Rockefeller Foundation and Yale Provost

This morning, I stumbled across this article from September, 2015 in the Nonprofit Quarterly while answering questions regarding my series of articles on the Clinton Foundation. Not covered in my articles were reports about the program/funding lacks and failures of the Clinton Foundation to fulfill grant outcomes/deliverables for large grants from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. The Nonprofit Quarterly not only isn’t “fake news,” it’s basically an industry publication that covers issues related to foundations, private nonprofits, fundraising best-practices and legal governance issues for NGOs. Seldom, if ever, does it feature “controversial” articles. So this article very drily stated that Ms. Rodin, who had an impeccable educational and employment background, including being the first woman to serve as Yale Provost and first female head of a U.S. foundation of the size and stature of Rockefeller —

Rockefeller PR Payments to Teneo

This nice lady basically paid a huge, and unprecedented sum for “PR” to the Teneo consulting firm and had already refused comment to publications like The Boston Globe asking what Ms. Rodin had gotten in return for these big whopping PR consultant payments to Doug Band, Bill Clinton’s “body” or right-hand man. You know me — so this article noted that Rockefeller’s 2014 990-PF (due November 2015) had not yet been filed so the 2014 contribution was “unknown.” It was zero.

But of course they did give $550K to the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting.

And of course, I can’t even casually glance at any Foundation’s 990 without seeing appalling stuff like —

Seriously — I guarantee there’s no “real work” here and the very name “Accenture” is a massive red flag more like “$100K slush fund to screw Indian people over — AGAIN”

So anyway here I was looking at this article that said this lady was giving very big amounts of money for “PR” to Doug Band/Teneo and that big newspapers like NY Times and Boston Globe had already covered it and the Nonprofit Quarterly guy had already added up the sizeable amounts and “relationship.”

“That would get any ‘average’ or regular non-profit CEO fired,” I told my friend on social media. “It’s clearly a violation of Rockefeller’s mission and vision and automatically subject to board and management questions.”

According to Wikipedia, Judith Rodin is still the President

But …

June 15 — she told the board she was “moving on”

Now I’m quite sure that an article of a quality nature such as I’m writing here will result in some profiles with 1–2 Medium followers commenting, “How ignorant are you??? How could u criticize Rockefeller Foundation???”

Putting that aside, this is how I ended up with Alexandra Pelosi’s 2010 high-quality HBO documentary film, Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County.

Ms. Rodin was noted during her tenure as the head of the huge Rockefeller Foundation as having championed a “data-driven” approach to that Foundation’s work. She also shared with the Wall Street Journal a mission-driven quote from the Foundation’s founder, John D. Rockefeller:

“The world owes no man a living, but it owes every man the opportunity to make a living.”

I honestly don’t think we are doing too much better now with that than during Mr. Rockefeller’s day. If he had known women had to work to take care of their children the way they do now, I think he might have said “person” and not “man.”

I had lots of laughs reading the laudatory WSJ report on this nice lady, including the initial feature that she’d done some of her “data driven” work with Peter Thiel’s data firm Palantir, the very company that had “prepared” one of the worst excuses for a “report” I’d ever seen on the Clinton Foundation decade-plus world meetings of corporate leaders, celebrities and international dictators: Clinton Global Initiative.

So while looking for the grossly shocking information of how many kids live in poverty in the U.S. now (the total percentage of children has not changed in the U.S. since 2008, but the percentage of children living in poverty has skyrocketed to over 20%, and 44% living low-income) — that was when I saw the homeless children of Orange County film and when I saw who the director was,


I just had to write this article.

Because these people, Pelosi and Rodin, aren’t like Charles Dickens, a poor boy whose father was sent to debtor’s prison, and who worked in a bootblack factory as a child, but who grew up, and through his writing became a wealthy man who made actual positive change in Victorian England, especially in prison conditions and treatment of prisoners —

Oh, and treatment of homeless orphans.

I don’t think Dickens made “data-driven decisions” or films for HBO nobody has ever seen.

Watch that little 50 second trailer for the homeless kids. She left every single blessed one of them right there where they were at. Every single one of them.

Not to mention those nit-pickers out there — what’s Alexandra Pelosi doing living in NYC and being an elector for California?

How many homeless people could have decent places to live for the $16.5 million paid to Doug Band/Teneo by Rockefeller Foundation over those three years? Well, if my former organization had been working with them …


Six-thousand and six hundred.

REAL in other words

About what we can know via sense and reason. Articles may contain opinion, but data is always verified, and statistics are based on at least one cooperative academic, or two independently verified media sources.

Amy Sterling Casil

Written by

According to Harlan Ellison and my grandmother, “You’ll go far Amy, because you have heart.” Author of 40 books, former exec., Nebula Award nominee, Poor.

REAL in other words

About what we can know via sense and reason. Articles may contain opinion, but data is always verified, and statistics are based on at least one cooperative academic, or two independently verified media sources.

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