Jane Harman, Michael Jackson's Family and Nancy Pelosi's Daughter: Saviors for Orange County Motel Kids and Foster Children?

Wouldn't it be something if substantial help for Orange County "motel kids" and adult foster children comes not from local churches, Loretta Sanchez or the social-program slashing Orange County Board of Supervisors but a Los Angeles charity, Jermaine Jackson and the daughter of Nancy Pelosi?

The loud pops you just heard were from heads exploding at teabagger rallies across the county.

An image from Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County.
An image from Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County.
Courtesy of HBO

The Orange County Register won awards for its special "Motel Children" section in 1998, exposing for the comfortably numb the hundreds of kids who reside in seedy Anaheim and Garden Grove motels where drugs, violence and poverty rule supreme.

The kids are not alright (still!) as we'll learn Monday when a documentary by Alexandra Pelosi premieres on HBO.

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Given the current anti-government, screw-the-poor, cut-cut-cut fervor that have overtaken our politics, it will be interesting to see if any hearts and minds are changed by the documentary written, directed and filmed by the youngest daughter of the beloved/loathed speaker of the House.

Her subjects--who, remember, live among us in the county of plenty--include:

  • four kids who live in a single motel room with their parents;
  • an 8-year-old girl forced to shave her head to get rid of lice;
  • friends, both 11, who live in separate motel rooms but both deal with bedbugs;
  • a 7-year-old who is seen attending the funeral of his mother's boyfriend, who was beaten and killed;
  • a widow who works at Disneyland and lives in a single motel room with her four kids and four small dogs;
  • a 9-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a doctor despite sharing one room with her mother and another family with a newborn baby;
  • and, a 6-year-old girl who sleeps between her parents in a queen-size motel bed and says the worst place she ever slept was in the bushes, which she called "embarrassing."

Then there are the sister and brother, ages 7 and 9, who moved into a motel with the family of a friend after their mother died. Asked if he has one wish for the summer, the boy answers, "To re-do my life."

Here's the trailer:

Here's how HBO describes the doc:

In Orange County, Cal., in some of America's wealthiest zip codes, some kids of the working poor live with their families in single motel rooms, attending a special school for transient children and playing in concrete parking lots in the shadow of the world's most famous amusement park.  Debuting MONDAY, JULY 26 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), the timely HBO documentary HOMELESS:  THE MOTEL KIDS OF ORANGE COUNTY reveals the devastating impact of hard times on children of the working poor.  Alexandra Pelosi (HBO's Emmy®-winning "Journeys with George") directs.

Other HBO playdates for Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County are: July 29 (3:30 p.m., 12:30 a.m.) and 31 (1:30 p.m.), and Aug. 4 (9 a.m.) and 8 (4 p.m.). HBO2 playdates are: July 28 (8 p.m.) and Aug. 2 (11:30 a.m.) and 29 (2:30 p.m.).
 

This is actually Pelosi's sixth documentary. Her previous subjects have ranged from George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign to Ted Haggard's struggles to remain employed and married to his wife.

Variety's Brian Lowry writes that Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County is Pelosi's "most potentially emotional" film and gives her props making her obvious political points quite powerfully.

But Lowry also fears her camera lens "is dangerously close to intruding on kids who, frankly, have enough problems without it." He cites a powerful scene near the end of the picture as one such instance.

The critic also makes this astute observation: many of the kids can see Disneyland from their dilapidated rooms, but have never visited the Happiest Place on Earth.

"Pelosi deserves credit for putting human faces on what has become a highly partisan debate, given resistance by congressional Republicans to extending unemployment benefits, much less providing aid to the working poor," he writes.

The filmmaker's mom got a sneak peak of Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Others in attendance included Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who introduced the film, and Reps. Sam Farr (D-Salinas), Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Judy Biggert (R-Ill.).

Asked by The Hill newspaper whether any of the people she filmed knew about her mother's day job, Alexandra Pelosi reportedly laughed and said, "Oh God, no, that wouldn't mean anything to these people. They've got much bigger things to worry about than politics."

But some of Orange County kids in dire straits may have members of Congress to thank by something else that happened in D.C. on Wednesday.

Daphna Ziman, founder of Children Uniting Nations, which is based in Beverly Hills but focuses primarily on impoverished kids throughout LA County, just said on CNN that such lawmakers as Rep. Jane Harman (D-El Segundo) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) have pledged to help spur legislation that will provide social aide to foster children after they are kicked out of system once they turn 18.

That followed a CNN piece on a young Orange County woman named Carla, who was 10 when she began living in motel squalor with her mother and 16 when social services removed her from her home because she was not attending school.

Carla was immediately placed in foster care. But when she turned 18--just as she was beginning to feel part of a family, attending school and making friends--she was cut off from government assistance. She is barely educated, has no job skills and certainly no money.

"It is unreasonable to think," Ziman said in an interview after the taped piece, "that children taken from their homes through no fault of their own are thrown into a system that, at best, is a revolving door, with no life skills and moved from school to school, and at 18, when they are not properly educated or have any job skills, their only options are the drug economy, crime and human trafficking. And that is not an option."

She explained that when Gray Davis was governor of California, he agreed to extend benefits to people like Carla until they turn 24, but the change had not been implemented by the time Davis was recalled.

The economic climate in Sacramento be damned, Ziman is pursuing state legislation with former Assembly speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) that would at least extend the benefits through age 21. Harman and Landrieu have stepped up to do the same at the federal level.

Meanwhile, Ziman's foundation and others that help needy children will receive a portion of proceeds from upcoming shows by Jermaine Jackson and a subsequent tour by the Jackson Family, he and his brother Randy Jackson said during the same CNN segment.

"These kids are turned loose at a very early age, and I think the government has to become responsible," Jermaine Jackson said.

Ziman also revealed it was decided last night that her foundation and the Jackson family will adopt a school that serves foster children in South LA, and that they will then look to do the same elsewhere.

Yo, folks, over here, lookie-lookie!


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