I remember my first day in Tent City. It was liberating to see so many people living in a community without using any government housing assistance. There are an estimated 80 people living in the Lakewood homeless camp and if you do the math it would cost a million dollars a year to house them through government agencies. When you think about the six years this camp has been housing the homeless, under the direction of a full time unpaid coordinator, you soon realize that Tent City has saved taxpayers millions of dollars. There is a lot we can learn from Tent City and the concept of low cost housing for people who want to be close to nature and live without the luxuries that most people depend on. Something is very natural about the whole idea of not being sucked into the nonessentials of life that we learn to depend on at an early age and spend our entire lives paying for.

After spending almost a year at Tent City I learned a lot, but nothing moved me like the experience of watching strangers from the community come into Tent City because they felt a need to do something. It’s all part of an ecosystem at Tent City that gives people the opportunity to bring food, clothing and items from around their house that they no longer need and give it to someone who does need it. I believe that most people want to help others; we just don’t always know how or where to go to get involved in helping less fortunate people. So, instead, we throw away good food and fill our landfills with items that are still usable.

I was attracted to making this documentary after returning from the Dominican Republic where I made several films about poverty and homelessness in a third world country. It didn’t take me long to realize that the answer to poverty in the United States is no different then it is in the poorest areas around the world. Maybe this country needs to provide the opportunity for the poor to live a simple life with basic necessities. Isn’t it the American way to allow a person to build a house that they can afford? Our society has become accustomed to creating laws and regulations that forbid people from living a simple life. The fact is that poor people in the United States are not allowed to build small houses that they can afford on minimum wage, even if it's on their own property and they comply with all the building codes. Zoning laws throughout the country make it illegal to build a small, affordable, energy efficient house that is eco-friendly.

Tent City is a humane homeless shelter that focuses on a sense of self-worth. The belief of the camp’s founder, Minister Steve Brigham, is that the emotional needs of a homeless person are as important as food, clothing and shelter. Unlike the way traditional shelters force the homeless out every morning to roam the streets with all their belongings, he believes that community and ownership are the first step to reentering a homeless person back into society. Minister Steve hopes to one day build a homeless shelter called Destiny’s Bridge. His plans consist of a self- sustainable camp in a remote area where residents receive counseling, treatment and job training in preparation to return to society in a small house that is affordable to someone working for minimum wage. The concept is worth talking about. I hope this film, Destiny’s Bridge, will start conversation about new ideas for housing the homeless.

- Jack Ballo                                              

Photos from a previous film (ELIO 2010) about building small houses for homeless families in the Dominican Republic.