12 January 2011


READERS OF THIS BLOG KNOW that over the past few years, I have consistently written about the quandary of the poor and homeless in our society. 'One Paycheck Away From Humanity' reported about the growing numbers of homeless I witnessed while GENERATION RX was being screened at the Cleveland Film Festival; and 'How the Other Half Lives' shared my journey to the other side of the world, only to be reminded of the homeless men I met as a young boy in Cleveland many moons ago.

Yesterday I posted my 1991 film, 'The Promised Land' online after days of restoring the documentary with my friend Charles L. Gilchrist. It is a film about homeless war veterans and hordes of men and women caught in the grip of poverty — and forced to the streets to survive. During the restoration process, the memories from 20 years ago came flooding back...and as I watched the film for the first time in over a decade, so did the tears.

During the frigid Cleveland winter of 1991, at 4 a.m. — in six-degree weather, we found dozens of men sleeping under a bridge in an area known as 'the Flats,' a stones throw from the arctic air blowing off Lake Erie. Many of my interviews with the men are featured in 'The Promised Land,' alongside stories of the “middle class homeless.”

As I outline in the film's description at my channel at vimeo.com, 'The Promised Land' was the highest-ranked TV program in prime time, but most importantly, it raised nearly $500,000 in donations after its first showing — and just under $1,000,000 total. The donations went directly to transitional housing, veterans groups, Foodbanks and job training for the poor and homeless.

It's a story about people living on the brink of disaster. . .and a few who crawled their way back — inch by inch — to self-sufficiency. One of those was a woman named Kathy Pinkis, whom I had met months earlier when I was producing a video for the Cleveland Foodbank. Kathy was a lovely lady with red hair, educated, and articulate. She was a single Mom who nearly lost everything after her divorce. When I first interviewed her, she cried...movingly so. When I asked to interview her again for 'The Promised Land,' she peered at me and said “yes, but this time I am not going to cry.”

I smiled, but realized that this would be a very difficult promise to keep. Kathy was a passionate survivor, and she wore her heart on her sleeve. Near the end of the still-tearless second interview, I told her I was a new father, and that I couldn't imagine how difficult it must have been for her with her young children in tow. . .with only $100 to last six weeks.

Kathy broke down. “I vowed then that I would do whatever I can to help someone else so that they won't have to go through what I went through...because it was the worst time in my life . . . and I won't ever be there again. . .ever,” she said sobbing.

As I stated above, the film was a big success: Emmy nominations and an International film award were the topping to near seven-figure success in fundraising for the homeless.

And Kathy was right. . .she never was forced to return to the streets.

About two years after 'The Promised Land' aired on television, I received a phone call from one of Kathy's teenaged sons. He began by introducing himself and by thanking me for including his Mom in the film. She had healed her bruised psyche after the trauma she'd endured, but now, he said bravely, “Mom is in the hospital with liver cancer...and only has weeks to live.” I was distraught with the news and as I hung up the phone, I promised Kathy's son that I would write her immediately...and did.

In the letter, I told Kathy what an inspiration she had been to hundreds of thousands of people; that she was a voice for so many — that she was so selfless that she was willing to tell her painful story publicly not once, but twice in order to help others. Almost singlehandedly, I said, she had shattered all of the myths people harbored about the 'face of the homeless;' she, with her shining red hair and her educated air.

You touched them all,” I wrote. “They felt your courage. You gave others hope. You are a hero.”

A few weeks later, Kathy's son called again. His Mother read the letter many times.  She smiled, he said, and cried.

But she was at peace when she died,” he said. “Thank you.”

As you watch 'The Promised Land' — twenty years after it was produced, you may note an eerie connection to the present. As you meet Kathy and all of the others I had the privilege of speaking with, I hope you will be motivated to help the poor and homeless wherever you live. Foodbanks need food, the homeless need beds, and millions need job re-training if they expect to survive.

Do so in honor of Kathy Pinkis, the thousands of homeless veterans, the poor and the unemployed who need your help. . .now more than ever.



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