Review: Just Getting By


Last Monday, I spent five hours preparing, serving, and cleaning up dinner for 15 homeless at my church in Vancouver, Washington. We alternate providing dinners, breakfasts, and overnight housing with another church. By 7:30 p.m., the guests nestled in on fold-out mattresses with thick blankets. One fellow had his dog, Itchy, and another had his 6-year-old daughter. Everyone is welcome. Out of respect, I never ask, but I always want to know: How did you end up here?

That’s the question I was also asking throughout Bess O’Brien’s documentary on homelessness. There was a blended family of four or five with a working dad, a veteran who said he’d been camping in the woods for 42 years, and a woman who was a cobbler during the day and a bartender at night. Some have jobs and some don’t. But how did they all end up homeless? What led them to this predicament?

I think of Vermont, where O’Brien’s doc takes place, as Washington State’s social-political sibling. We care about our citizens and we walk our talk. We’ve got all kinds of programs provided by the state, churches, and private individuals. But the homeless problem is not ending.

O’Brien dives in and shows us people from a wide spectrum of situations. When Covid hit and businesses shut down, more people than ever were left out in the freezing cold. In Vermont and Washington, that can be at least seven months of the year. However, in the aftermath of Covid, with very little affordable housing, inflation, and increasing health needs, the cry for help has continued.

“Just Getting By” reveals Vermonters who have set up free-meal kitchens, free grocery provision stations and free clothing centers. The state also provides a motel housing program, which is the big reason you won’t see the same tents along the sidewalks that you see in my city. But that program is due to end in July.

But still, I want to know how these people ended up depending on their community for their basic human needs. I want O’Brien to take us through some life stories so we know how this exactly happened. Then I want successful interventions showcased. Interventions that take that family of five wonderful kids and two caring parents to a place where they can buy a home and provide for themselves.

Over time, our federal government has handed over $130 billion to Israel and $75 billion in the last two years to help Ukraine. But internally, we are weakening ourselves through a lack of a federal political will to subsidize affordable housing and basic health care for Americans.

O’Brien doesn’t cover that part of the craziness in her film. She just shows us the financial insecurity that is happening in a typically hard-working state famous for mom-and-pop maple syrup, cheese, craft beers, and Bernie Sanders. US citizens keep asking for help. Churches and good neighbors have been the stop-gap in the dike, but it is not enough and we are getting weary.

No one is saying that America shouldn’t support other countries around the world, but “Just Getting By” aptly points out that we only weaken ourselves when we don’t take care of our own foundational needs.


Director: Bess O’Brien
Release: March 22, 2024
Website and how to see:

. . .

Join us on Facebook at!

Comments are closed.