Saturday, November 04, 2006


I just saw the most depressing film. It was a documentary called Reversal of Fortune and chronicled a man who had been homeless for twenty years and was given $100,000 to see what would happen. The filmmakers and his family did everything possible to have this turn out well. They set him up with a financial planner, tried to give him contacts on employment, and helped him to get an apartment. Unfortunately, things just didn’t seem to work out well. By the end of six months, he wouldn’t report how much was left but his sisters seemed to think it was around $5,000.

It was depressing not only for that man, but also for the hundreds of thousands to possibly millions of homeless people in the US. Maybe I am being optimistic, but I am sure there are some homeless people out there who would take that much money and not waste it on Dodge Rams, beer, and trying to impress those of the opposite sex. I am sure that some people would get that money and find a way to once more become productive citizens.

This man was adamant about not thinking for the future. His attitude was that he had been thinking one day at a time for so long that it was impossible to think any other way. He wouldn’t even consider trying to make a budget or really looking for work. It made me so mad. He did a lot of generous things like treating people to meals and even buying them cars but he blew so much of the money it physically pained me. He seemed like a nice person but the unwillingness to accept sound advice was just so stupid. He said the financial planner was just trying to get some of his money, and yes, they do work for fees but he didn’t seem to have a problem with these two women who he knew were dating him only for his money and would probably leave him as soon as the money ran out. It really pissed me off.

I know planning for the future isn’t easy. I am guilty of this to a certain extent myself. However, you can be sure that if someone gave me a briefcase with $100,000 tax free that there would be some incredible positive changes in my life. I know in the grand scheme of things it isn’t all that much money. I also know it is enough to get plenty of good things started. It also is a very little amount of money to make a film (cause they certainly didn’t spend a lot on production) and no matter what happened to the person, they were going to get a good story. Anyway, I wish I had that money but no one will give it to me because it wouldn’t make for a very good movie at all.

Maybe some inspirational music will have me back in good spirits.

In Houston, Tapes ‘n Tapes- This is a really good band. I am glad Monica told me to listen to them. I should download more of their music because they are one of the new bands that I have started listening to that Tony and I can both agree on. There is a very minimalist yet complex sound that they have going on. Good times.

The Holy War, Thin Lizzy- Yet another band that Tony is into that I am very glad became part of my repertoire. This isn’t my favorite of their songs though. It’s a little hair band sounding for me. They did have long hair though (and an afro).

Don’t Leave Me Now, Pink Floyd- I really like The Wall. I think that it is a little silly of me because I think I should kind of be over it by now but maybe that is why they call the stuff classic rock. You never really get tired of a classic.


Monica said...

i am nervous to ask you follow up questions about the doc...especially in such a not private venue. i'm sure you know what they are anyway. ugh, so fucked up.
yo, i'm glad you and tony like tapes 'n tapes. i like 'cowbell' a lot and i don't hold it against them they are very pixies/pavement "influenced"

Natalie said...

Monica, it was white folks. Toothless white folks. If this is not the question you were thinking of asking then I have obviously proven myself an awful ass but I think it was. It's On Demand, I think on Encore.

CrimsonKing said...

Yeah I hate hobos too. Sometimes it seems like the only thing they're good for is hobo fights videos. Wait, did you say you hate people or hobos? I'll just shut up now.

Lizza said...

It's weird how people sometimes seem afraid to change for the better. Afraid or lazy? In any case, what a waste.

Wobbly*Bits said...

WOW. In this day and age $100,000 hardly has the connoation it once did. Even someone who is homeless should realize this can't support you for the rest of your life. How discourage he just squandered it.

I worked at a restaurant once in college. The ownder said everyday on his way to work he passed a homeless man holding a sign that said "Will work for food" so one day he pulled over and offered him a $6 an hour dishwasher job and a free meal while working. The man laughed and said he could make more standing on the corner than washing dishes for him. Ever since then I've been so skeptical of giving out money...

Always on the Move said...

WOW, this Doc. sure sounded interesting. Too bad they didn't give the $100,000 to about 5 homeless people, and see how many of them will just take the $$$ and run! That would've been more interesting!!! I think anyways! And then if the didn't run, it would've been interesting to see what they would've done with that $$. Would they buy/rent a home, purchase a car, get some nice newer clothes and get a job? I wonder!?

The Doc said...

Sounds like an interesting documentary, if a little blood-boiling. I'll put it on my "to watch" list.

Secondhand Smoke said...

You can never be over the wall, it's one of the greatest albums ever and one of the best movies ever, I don't know if it's right to "get over" things like that.

J. said...

It sounds like a really interesting documentary - but also upsetting. I saw a documentary about homeless people living under Penn Station, it's called Dark Days. It was so interesting, how they had their own little community under there. I remember in the end of the documentary, they all got given apartments. They were all so happy about having a clean place to call home. I always wondered how many of them managed to keep their lives straight after that, and how many of them ended up returning to old habits and eventually found themselves back on the streets. Check it out sometime if you already haven't:

Natalie said...

Wobbly- A friend of mine in College had a homeless friend. She had parents and could have gone home but didn't want to. Through panhandling and other odd jobs she went on vacation to Europe. I stopped really giving people money after that one.

J- Dark Days was a fantastic doc. I liked those people a lot more than this guy, although he was pretty good at being homeless. He had a little lock box under a bridge and a decent bike.

Crimson- I don't hate hobos as a rule just those that bother me....

Lizza- It is har dot change for the better but why that is???

Always movin- I woould like to think that at least one of the five would have succeeded in living a regular life.

Doc- only watch while not already upset, and try not to hit anything after watching.

Secondhand- yeah, i'll never get over the good stuff. I love that movie too although I try not to watch it too often, i start to feel a little too collegiate

daveewo said...

there was a woman at work that inherited 400,000 dollars! in just over six months she had spent everything.

we tried to tell her to slow down or invest the money, but she thought it was silly.

when asked what she was spending the money on, she would say gifts like cars and things for friends.

i have to wonder if those friends are still around now that money is gone.

some homeless people are homeless because they can't make life work out their reality and the common reality don't mesh well enough for it to make sense. maybe they just got a "bad" hobo.

janeylynne said...

It's really hard for me to generalize about such things because, when I was in college and part of a group called the Hunger Coalition, I would go once a month to Kansas City and help feed homeless people hot meals and give them toiletries and blankets and such. The ones that aren't on the corner with the signs are the ones that we really need to see. I've seen people that have really nice set-ups (tents by the river, etc.) and I've also seen people that are homeless due to mental illness or being runaways. The key thing to remember, for me anyhow, is that most homeless people do not start off as lazy, alcoholic, cracked out gadabouts. They usually become that way after time. I saw a teenage boy who became addicted to huffing paint because it helps you to "feel full" does alcohol, which is one of the cheapest things you can buy that keeps you feeling warm and full. I've also seen a woman take her hot meal and give it to a puppy she found because she felt she didn't deserve it and the puppy needed it more. Of course, living in Topeka, I've seen the people sitting on the corner and making money, in brand new jeans and such, but I've just seen too much reality to ever be convinced that being homeless is always about one's personal choice.

Sorry this comment is so long, but like I said earlier, it's hard for me to generalize about this.

Natalie said...

Dave- yeah that seems just nuts $400k is a lot of money. I really do wonder if people are still around her. I could spend that much in 6mo but I would have something to show for it, like a house.

Janey- i totally agree with you. there are so many reasons why people become homeless and why they stay homeless. I too have seen examples of people really having their stuff together and being homeless, both through my work and just general learnings. There are different circumstances for everyone and I would say that the majority of the time it isn't a choice but a series of bad circumstances.

Mom said...

Sounds like a very depressing show. And it brings up a zillion questions. Here are a few. What was the filmmakers' point of view, for example. Were they trying to show people as lazy, stupid, etc.? Were they trying to show that money doesn't fix everything? Was this particular homeless person mentally ill (did this even come up as a possibility in the course of the documentary?)? Was he making good money on the street (I, too, have heard stories of people making $40,000 a year begging)? I fear that a documentary like this can easily degenerate to stereotyping and blaming people for various life circumstances that they may not be in control of. I could go on, but this is already gonna be way too long.

I don't know much about the history of homelessness in the US, or what the issues might be with homelessness in other countries. But I can say that, from my personal historical recollection, homelessness seemed to surface as a "minor" issue during the Nixon administration and quickly grew to be a "feature of the landscape" during the Reagan and "Bush I" years. And if memory serves, a lot had to do with the de-funding and closing of state mental institutions. Admittedly, there were huge problems with these places, but closing them without providing services for the people who lived in them was irresponsible. And continuing to not-fund and de-fund social service programs of all kinds leaves many people without a safety net.

Human nature being what it is, I am not surprised that a (homeless) person would quickly spend $100,000 or that a (gainfully employed) person would quickly go through $400,000.

BTW, "Reversal of Fortune" is also the title of a 1990 movie about Claus von Bulow's appeal of his murder verdict (he was convicted of murdering his very wealthy wife). According to IMDB, it happens to be showing on Oxygen later this week and was written by the lawyer who litigated the appeal.

csmc said...

It makes sense to me that he wouldn't really know how to deal/ manage the money he got. I would assume that being in therapy to work out the issues that got him in the situation that he was in to begin with might have helped him stay on track.

While I understand that some folks really are homeless for reasons beyond their control it was clear that this guy, once he got money, had some internal issues going on about living for the future, prioritizing his own well being and the general issue of self esteem.

If he had had that I wonder if it would have gone differently?

RastaManErn said...

I stopped giving people on the street money LOOOOONG ago. Brian and I were in the South Loop late one evening getting a drink after work or something. Most people had cleared out and gone home. We walk past this guy asking the few passersby for change on our way to the restaurant. When we leave 15 minutes later, guess who we see driving by in his pretty black Benz? I suppose it was his quitting time, too.

From then on, my only question when asked for money was "Are you hustling?", to which the answer was "yes" 90% of the time. I feel better giving my money to charities and hoping that people have the common sense to go thru them for help.