Magazine article The Christian Century

Almost Homeless: The Florida Project's Lens on Poverty

Magazine article The Christian Century

Almost Homeless: The Florida Project's Lens on Poverty

Article excerpt

HALFWAY THROUGH The Florida Project, Sean Baker's beautiful, melancholy, and inspiring new film, six-year-old Moonee takes her friend Jancey out into the swampy pastures of Kissimmee, Florida. Bewildered by seeing a herd of cattle, they bellow, "Mooo!!!" and giggle at the sound. "See, I took you on a safari," Moonee says--another one of her accomplishments during her many unsupervised trips off the main highway. This momentary experience--much like the quilt of strangers that has brought them together--is a6uthentic and inspiring and magical.

In other words, it is a fulfilling substitute for Animal Kingdom, the Disney attraction for which parents shell out so their kids might have the same kind of experience in a more contrived environment. Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), the film's hero--or, more accurately, its princess--will never have the chance to compare the two experiences. She lives with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), in the Magic Castle, a roadside, extended-stay motel that shelters similar families scraping to get by on the outskirts of Orlando. Halley struggles to find steady work along the strip, hustling tourists when she can and illegally selling cheap perfume outside country clubs. Unattended and independent, Moonee takes pleasure in back-alley fun: spitting on cars, wandering through abandoned, candy-colored housing projects, and asking visitors for ice cream money.

Moonee and her mother represent a rarely portrayed population living in poverty--the almost-homeless. Baker's film, which he cowrote with Chris Bergoch, resists condescension or pity, and refuses to cast people as heroes or villains.

In Orlando, in the shadows of Disney's glow, the average job pays less than in most major metropolitan areas in America, and there's a desperate need for affordable housing. Only 18 rental units are available for every 100 low-income families, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The majority of low-wage jobs come from the tourism industry, which pays employees barely enough to cover the average cost of rent.

But Orlando is not unique. Not far away, low-income residents in Mississippi face similar issues. Research conducted by NLIHC shows that to afford rental housing in the state, a Mississippian must earn more than double the minimum wage. Residents must work several hours more than the standard 40-hour work week to afford rental homes at fair market rent. Even for those eligible for federal assistance, the government doesn't guarantee housing, and wait lists and housing vouchers can take an extremely long time to process. The red tape can seem never-ending.

In many states, politicians boast of job growth in press releases, even though most of the growth is in low-wage jobs, which don't stimulate communities so much as keep them afloat, transient, and in need of $38 motel rooms of the kind Halley and Moonee rent.

"We think of homeless people as literally on the street or packed in shelters in metropolitan areas," Baker said in a recent interview with Relevant magazine. "I honestly did not know there were hundreds of thousands of them living in budget hotels. And the recession of '08 has had a very lasting effect on many communities throughout the United States, and in particular Orlando and Kissimmee. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.