Back in the ’70s, US Bank was considering buying up property in the old part of Portland, Oregon, where the “bums” hung out in dilapidated, tiny one room old hotels with a shared bathroom down the hall. My housemate was the US Bank project coordinator of a program to find alternative places for these people to live and even possibly habilitate them from alcoholism and joblessness. One special branch of her responsibilities was to socialize US bank employees and other volunteers with the indigent residents, thinking our influence might make a difference.
After a few years and only one success case, Sue came to the hard conclusion that these down-and-outers were proud of their lifestyle and didn’t want any change at all. So, after US Bank bought up the buildings and gentrification began, they lost their $5 per night rooms and street dwelling began.
However, 10 years later in the ’80s, something different occurs. “Home is a Hotel” is a verite look at a similar circumstance in San Francisco: What to do about people living in dilapidated one-room hotel rooms? Instead of gentrification and displacement, there is a different revelation and outcome. In San Francisco’s Tenderloin and China Town areas the city chartered the old, dilapidated hotels with a shared bathroom down the hall for their homeless. These units are called SROs, Single Room Occupancy. Affordable housing had became extinct in the big city but this was viewed as a solution.
For five years, Kevin Duncan Wong tracked a handful of the SRO inhabitants. Why were they there, did they have jobs, what was their life like?
One of the first SRO residents we meet is a pop artist. He’s very good, but he neither mass produces nor works for a promoter. He hustles his work on his own, sometimes being paid in food. Another is an Asian immigrant single mom who works the kitchen circuit to support her and her daughter in a tiny little room. Still another is a guy with a son, ex-wife and dog who maximize the use of a room smaller than my clothes closet.
Sometimes beds double as kitchen tables. A woman with limited sight is targeted by others as social problems manifest. Our artist gets involved in a self-defense battle with his inebriated next-door neighbor and kills him. How to prove it was self-defense without a witness?
There is no narration, just a series of character studies with the featured people speaking to us as if they were on a reality tv show. Somewhere, we hear that a bedbug, roach-infested SRO room can cost $800 per month.
What happens to each featured character after five years becomes gripping and even surprising. But what remains exasperatingly frustrating is that after 50 years across America we still have not fixed the working poor housing shortage, much less the homelessness of the handicapped, mentally ill or addicted.
Director, Producer and Editor: Kevin Duncan Wong
Official Website: https://www.homeisahotel.com/home
How to See: Home Is a Hotel premiered in Austin at the Austin Film Festival on Oct. 29, 2023, and will also be featured in the San Diego Asian Film Festival on Nov. 8, 2023, and premieres in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 2023, at the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles DocuSlate.
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