REVIEW: ‘Lead Me Home’ Shines Light On America’s Greatest Shame

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Lead Me Home - But Why Tho

Lead Me Home is a Netflix Original documentary by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk intimately portraying the lives of several folks who have been homeless in Las Angeles, San Fransisco, and Seattle over several years. It combines startling imagery and personal testimony to make an upsetting and realistic depiction of how unhoused folks are dehumanized.

The soup kitchen where I work has served over three times as many meals in 2021 as we did in 2019, pre-pandemic. While not every guest we serve is homeless, many are, and one of the absolute greatest shames of this nation is that we have allowed homelessness to increase during a deadly pandemic rather than do much of anything to keep folks who are already at significant risk safe. While Lead Me Home mainly was filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic, this utter shame, which has so many solutions with simply no will or desire to implement them, needs to be pointed out foremost.

Lead Me Home was filmed in Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and Seattle. Anyone who has never witnessed the scope of homelessness in these cities knows that it is quite unlike anything anywhere else in the United States. And this film makes that very, very clear. Tent cities and all types of temporary, unsanitary, unsafe, and undoubtedly unwelcome shelter can be found in virtually every corner of these cities. The film uses most of its time simply showing footage of these places and their conditions juxtaposed against the dense wealth that populates the cities around them. It sharply highlights a major population that most of society simply attempts to ignore and certainly never interacts with much depth if they can avoid it. It’s constantly harrowing and upsetting to have this unavoidable and horrible reality shoved in your face where you can’t simply look past it like you normally do.

The rest of what Lead Me Home contains is testimony from homeless folks. Their interviews are conducted mainly in the context of intake at temporary shelters or with various social workers. Some are shot on the street in their domiciles or as they go about their days. Each answer to a question or each story individuals tells gets at one of two things: they either serve to show the pure humanity of the individuals that most people would tend to ignore, or they demonstrate specific and terrible failures of the U.S. government or local communities to do anything to end this crisis.

The humanizing stories range from wonderful to terrible, with tales of finding love and love driving people to do unthinkable things. The failures are infuriating, including the inability of government benefits to adequately lift people out of their circumstances—instead, locking them into homelessness—and the abuse and mistreatment homeless individuals endure from police, one another, and people in the community general.

I only wish the film included more testimony and less imagery. After a while, the unnarrated footage felt repetitive and lingered too long. Perhaps I’m just accustomed to these sights and thinking about them critically and empathetically. Still, I wish I could have heard more about people’s lives and experiences and perhaps even what gives them or their advocates hope for a future free of homelessness.

Lead Me Home is the best demonstration of how inhumane the treatment of America’s homeless population truly is. While I wish there were a different balance between the imagery and testimony, it cuts critically at the heart of one of the United States’ greatest shames.

Lead Me Home is streaming now on Netflix.


Lead Me Home
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

Lead Me Home is the best demonstration of how inhumane the treatment of America’s homeless population truly is. While I wish there were a different balance between the imagery and testimony, it cuts critically at the heart of one of the United States’ greatest shames.