Dogtown Redemption is an emotional testament to the humanity and perseverance of the recyclers and should enable all viewers to see the people behind the carts. Their personal circumstances are beyond challenging, but their tenacity and sheer strength as they navigate the streets of Oakland demand our admiration and respect.
Oakland faces a housing crisis that has displaced thousands and more than doubled the number of residents who are homeless and unhoused. While the City struggles to rebound from the recession, redevelopment funds have been stripped, federal HUD money is rapidly shrinking and legislators are struggling to find resources.
Those experiencing homelessness are viewed as squatters, occupying lands they don’t own. They collect the modern-day gold of the streets — recyclable materials including metals, glass, plastic and aluminum cans — hoping to earn an honest, independent living. Most are being pushed out by forces that are out of their control.
The shopping carts are operated by “drivers” making only a subsistence wage, receiving no health care, sick leave or vacation. Their low wages are a poor excuse for an assistance program. We root for them to thrive at it, at the same time we pray they can escape from it.
In Dogtown Redemption, we learn to care about the lives of recyclers, celebrate their successes, and mourn their losses. The film shows those of us who haven’t had to collect cans to buy food, and don’t have to sleep in a makeshift tent, what life is like for those who do.
They worked harder than anyone I have ever seen. They took tons of recyclables carelessly thrown in the trash and kept them out of the landfill and put them back into circulation. They saved trees, natural habitat and the energy it takes to make aluminum, glass and paper from raw materials.
Dogtown Redemption takes us on a journey through a landscape of love and loss, devotion and addiction, prejudice and poverty. The story of the three recyclers—Jason, Landon and Hayok—provides a rare glimpse into the conflicts over race, class and space shaping Oakland and other American cities.
In a society that blames poverty on the poor, Dogtown Redemption shines a light on the resourcefulness, complexity, caring, and humanity found in the homeless recyclers Jason, Langdon and Miss Kay — often in greater measure than can be found in those much more fortunate. There is love in every frame.
When I entered St. Mary’s shelter, I had nothing but the clothes on my back and the desire to change. I no longer wanted that homeless lifestyle, and buggy-pushing. I had to take the time to be reborn from within. I want to show people they have a choice.
Through the camera’s eye, I observed grief and laughter, violence and love, addiction and redemption. I saw these recyclers at their best and worst, with all that makes us human. The film will have succeeded if it reveals their humanity, and helps erase the invisible barrier between us and “them.”
“I’ve been so impressed at how hard people work to get their recycling done,” said Joe Liesner. “The thing that impresses me most — and I don’t think I’ll ever get over it — is the older women that go out. You can just see the wear and tear that’s put on them.”
Street recyclers and the recycling businesses that work cooperatively with them are under pressure from skyrocketing land prices, city hurdles, and community perceptions which can make or break the razor-thin margins of even the strongest and oldest of Oakland’s traditional businesses. Community support is crucial.