As the District of Columbia’s cost of living increases and the number of homeless and financially distressed families escalates, the city’s support systems are failing to help working families find adequate, affordable housing. Indeed, since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, the district’s homeless population has quadrupled, even while the city’s net wealth grew substantially.
By the time snowstorms paralyzed Washington in the winter of 2014, the city’s largest homeless shelter was filled to the max with 288 families, including more than 600 children. An additional 125 families filled every apartment in the city’s only other family shelter and more than 300 homeless families were placed in budget motels. Sharing a sullied plot of land with clinics for methamphetamine addiction recovery and sexually transmitted disease treatment, as well as a working jail, DC General, a once shutdown hospital turned homeless shelter, is the backdrop for a veritable tale of two cities.
Unsettled is the story of two women and their journey from life without a home to the fight to keep their dreams and hopes alive in a city that is tacitly pushing them out. While Naila Goodwin-Early desperately fights the system to put her family in permanent housing, Nkechi Feaster battles to keep the home and the small foothold she’s earned. Through their personal journeys both push the powers that be for more support for Washington, DC’s unsettled population. This is a story of living both in and on the edge of homelessness.
With each passing day, Washington, DC increasingly resembles the 19th century Paris evoked by Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo. In other words, a city that, against odds, prospered better than any other during the Great Recession, still hosts some of the very poorest communities in the United States. The contrast is downright unsettling.
While this real tale of two cities unfolds in the nation’s most powerful and wealthiest metropolitan, a clock is ticking. If corrective action is not promptly taken, the poor living in the nation’s capital will soon be pushed out altogether.
Living in the district, seven student filmmakers at George Washington University’s Institute for Documentary Filmmaking saw this dichotomy playing out on a daily basis. In making Unsettled, we wanted to explore what is happening to DC’s poor and what that says about the priorities of the district’s government.
We wanted to know why the city funneled so many families and children into an abandoned, rundown hospital. We were interested in what other housing and life-improving options are offered to those living in shelters. And we were curious to learn about how well these options meet the needs of an increasing number vulnerable people.
To get at the truth buried in the city’s prosperity, Unsettled follows Naila Goodwin-Early as she desperately fights to get out of DC General, to be heard by those who can help, and to put her family on more solid ground. Meanwhile Nkechi Feaster struggles to keep the home and the small foothold she’s earned, while struggling to find a permanent place in the workforce, and advocating for those who struggle with similar issues.
Through Naila and Nkechi’s parallel journeys, Unsettled tells the story of what it means to have a home, how disrupted life is without one, and how hard it is to fight your way out of this hole without more support.