“Searching for Safe Ground” : a film on the struggle of being homeless in Sacramento
“Searching for Safe Ground,” a film series by Costa Mantis, reveals the daily struggles of being homeless in Sacramento and addresses the bleak reality of not having a safe place to sleep.
Starting in October and continuing until February, a different episode of the five-part series will play at First Methodist Church on the corner of J and 21st streets during Second Saturday Art Walks.
Mantis moved from his home in Pennsylvania to Sacramento on Apr. 1, 2009 on a “mission to give the homeless a voice,” he said.
In 2009, an estimated 250 of Sacramento’s homeless lived in a collection of tents on the banks of the American River in a community called Tent City. Without running water, bathrooms, and only the protection of thin nylon tents from the weather, Tent City became a national symbol of the economic hardships caused by the recession. From the Oprah Winfrey Show to the New York Times, Tent City was reported to reflect the harsh realities of the economic downturn that citizens faced and continue to struggle with today.
Mantis has been a filmmaker for 40 years has made many films such as, Time of Tears, Laughing Stock, Flying Pumpkins and many other films and commercials. Mantis took on this project because the people of Tent City needed to be heard and needed to tell their story, he said.
“I moved into Tent City to understand what it was like to be in their shoes,” Mantis said. “After Tent City was forced to close, I followed them in their struggle to find a place to sleep. Everyone deserves a place to sleep and stay warm and to take a shower. I exposed myself to their daily regimen to be able to accurately tell their story.”
In May of 2011 he moved out of the homeless community and into an apartment and has since finished his miniseries, “Searching for Safe Ground.”
“I hope that those who come to see the film become supportive of the movement and speak with the mayor and City Council about the need for safe ground for the homeless,” said Reverend Don Lee of First Methodist Church. “Costa Mantis has been using his gift of film-making to be a voice for the struggles of the homeless. It is an important message.”
For a video explanation of the purpose of the film series by Costa Mantis, visit here.
When Tent City was forced to disband in the spring of 2009, the organization SafeGround Sacramento emerged. The film follows the community from Tent City’s closure to the creation of SafeGround Sacramento and shows the organization’s continuing efforts today.
SafeGround Sacramento was created to rally for a safe, legal and sanitary sanctioned area for the homeless to sleep. Each member of SafeGround Sacramento must agree to adhere to a code of no drugs, no alcohol and no violence to be a part of the organization.
The films show the peoples’ daily fight for survival. It follows them as they try to find a safe place to sleep, a meal to eat and shows their constant shuffling about the city as police urge them on to find alternative sleeping arrangements.
The first part in the film series shows the harsh living conditions in Tent City and people tell their stories of how they arrived there. Cold wind blows through the air and whips against people’s tents as they explain their frustrations and the lack of options that they have. Muddy ground surrounds the area and police cars approach. The film captures the faces of the homeless occupants at Tent City as they are told to disband.
Before the homeless community at Tent City can tackle the issue of where they should go inmates arrive and begin cleaning up the land. Bulldozers and tractors roll over what was once Tent City and the community is shown gathering their belongings and moving out.
“When I first moved into Tent City people felt invaded by my presence. For ten days people felt threatened by me. After that, I started to gain their trust,” Mantis said.
From that point on Mantis lived and breathed with the occupants of Tent City. The film shows the 50 to100 people traveling together all over the city in search for safe ground.
“In these films you are going to see people living under bridges. You are going to see people living in the woods. You are going to see some who got into shelters and put in beds, ” Manits said.
After Tent City was dispersed the preliminary meetings for SafeGround Sacramento began. They were filmed by Mantis and segments are included in the film series. The proceeding SafeGround Sacramento rallies, picketing efforts, and City Council meetings are all captured in his films and the efforts continue today.
“There simply isn’t enough shelter space,” said Steve Watters, executive director of SafeGround Sacramento. “There are literally a couple thousand people around this county that have nowhere to go. I would guess that there is probably 400-500 people living along the rivers downtown right now.”
The members of the organization have yet to find a place that they are legally allowed to stay, and without enough beds in the city’s homeless shelters, they break the law nightly by sleeping outside in hiding.
“The actions of the city and county speak for themselves. Is there enough shelter? No. Are there enough beds? No,” Mantis said. “I am not looking to present both sides of the story in these films. I am telling these people’s experiences and showing life through their eyes.”
The miniseries is divided into five segments. For a preview of the segments the film series by Costa Mantis, click here.
• Oct. 8 – Episode 1 “Third World America”
Episode one explores the living conditions of those living in Tent City. It also documents the process of Tent City closing down and the homeless needing to find alternative places to live.
• Nov. 12 – Episode 2 “Outside In”
Episode two shows what happened to the occupants after they left Tent City. Mantis documents the homeless moving from Tent City to heavily wooded areas and to underneath bridges. In this episode SafeGround Sacramento is discussed and officially formed.
• Dec. 10 – Episode 3 “Where Will I Stay Tonight?”
Episode three reveals the community effort to claim safe ground and hold onto it by force. They fail to succeed but the idea is born to purchase land that SafeGround Sacramento can make available to the homeless.
• Jan. 14 – Episode 4 “It Is What It Is”
Episode four shows the planning for purchasing a piece of land develop. Occupation of a piece of land on C Street is attempted but after one month it is lost due to multiple law suits filed against SafeGround Sacramento.
• Feb. 11 – Episode 5 “Now What?”
Episode five shows SafeGround Sacramento occupants leaving the area on C Street and the law suits against them are dropped. The final scene shows the homeless community biking off into the sunset in further search for safe ground.
The film viewing starts at 5 p.m. at First Methodist Church in Midtown. There is a suggested donation of $5 at the door, and all proceeds go to SafeGround Sacramento. There will be a question-and-answer time after the film with the filmmaker and leaders from SafeGround Sacramento.
For more information on SafeGround Sacramento, visit the website here.