Film highlights Maricopa County homelessness

An estimate of 25,000 people in Arizona suffered from homelessness according to a 2011 report done by the Homeless Management Information Systems. (Photo by Ana Ramirez)

Producer and former ASU journalism student Robert Felix teamed up with his church to create an hour-long film about homelessness in Maricopa County, which impacted about one out of every 200 residents in 2011.

“The Road Back Home” premiered on Channel 12 in May and will show a screening Tuesday at the Valley Art Theatre on Mill Avenue and 5th Street.

Scottsdale’s Pinnacle Presbyterian Church created the One Step Away program to provide residents with information on issues in the community.

The program presented the film with Dixiletta Moving Pictures, a film company Felix founded with his mother, Dixie Cook.

According to the One Step Away website, there are about 8,000 homeless living on the streets of Maricopa County.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security reported that 58 percent of the state’s homeless population resides in Maricopa County.

The film follows five individuals identified as Gen, Alesha, Heisley, Marcos and Eileen. One is a mother with two children, another is a veteran and the others have individual hardships that led them to life on the street.

“There are really only two things homeless (people) have in common,” Felix said. “One, something very difficult happened in their life, and the other, they had nowhere to turn.”

The film’s goal is to bring a face to the issue, he said.

Factors such as mental illness, the economy and medical conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder contribute to homelessness, according to the One Step Away website.

Felix said no one chooses to be homeless.

“One thing you learn when you start working with people is people have complex lives,” he said.

Everyone has a different story and there’s not a certain type of person that becomes homeless, Felix said.

Gen, a single, upper-class woman who never thought she would find herself on the streets, appears in the film’s preview.

Her story is similar to many who are just “down on their luck,” she said in the film.

She said many smart and driven people find themselves in the same situation.

Felix and a small crew filmed in Phoenix for two years to document homelessness and develop solutions to the problem.

He said the community needs to work to decrease the homeless population.

“People just find themselves in horrible situations,” Felix said. “Once you become homeless, you’re not treated as humans.”

He said many homeless people have told him that they are treated like animals. Felix said resources provided to homeless people are only temporary solutions.

The documentary is a “real human story” that has both happy and sad moments, he said.

Homelessness Initiative Coordinator David Ropp said he would like to see homelessness eliminated altogether.

“People think, ‘If I know this person’s name then I know their plight,’” he said. “But once you see it in your own community, you begin to watch and even read the news a little differently.”

Felix’s church has created a number of homeless programs throughout the community including André House, Madison Street Veterans Association and Open Table.

Open Table works with an individual or family to act as support. Jeff Smith, a team leader of the group, said he likes the idea of the film.

“My best hope is that (the film) will create awareness and people will ask questions to find solutions,” he said.

Editor’s note: Erin O’Connor, a multimedia producer for The State Press, worked on “The Road Back Home” documentary. He was not involved with the reporting of this article.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Robert Felix went to Pinnacle Presbyterian church. He attends Valley Presbyterian church and worked with Pinnacle Presbyterian on the project.

Reach the reporter at amrami13@asu.edu