National Union of the Homeless ("Takeover" documentary) FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 7 Jan 1998 04:02:32 -0800 (PST)

FWD from

Case study: Takeover-The National Union of the Homeless

The documentary Takeover, which portrays homeless people engaged in
political action, has been a valuable resource to organizers in the poor
people's movement.

  In 1989 homeless people, former homeless people, and advocates for people
in poverty gathered in Philadelphia for what was known as the "Survival
Summit." At this meeting homeless men and women began to organize
themselves, strategizing about ways to escape poverty. Filmmakers Peter
Kinoy and Pam Yates of Skylight Pictures were invited to videotape the
summit. In conjunction with The National Union of the Homeless and the
National Welfare Rights Union, they produced Street Heat, an organizing
video used to train and inspire homeless people to take direct action.

  The next year the unions began to organize a one-day nationwide
"Takeover" of empty federal housing, demanding permanent housing for people
on the streets. The participants used Street Heat widely in their
organizing efforts, and The
National Union for the Homeless invited Peter Kinoy and Pam Yates to
participate in the planning process for the Takeover.

  Skylight organized professional and amateur crews to shoot Takeovers in
eight cities. Kinoy found that when he contacted organizers to arrange the
shoots, "in every place we called, folks had seen Street Heat and had been
using it to train people.  There was an immediate opening up of doors,"
even among people who were generally distrustful of the media.

  When Kinoy and Yates viewed the dramatic footage that came in from the
various demonstrations, they realized they had the potential to create a
film that could assist the homeless people's movement and reach a wider
audience. The final
production, Takeover, aired on the PBS series POV in 1992.

  Takeover begins with striking black and white film footage of caskets-one
ominously marked "unknown black male"-being transported from city streets
to city graves. In one shot, the camera's eye looks up inside a grave at
the dirt
pouring down from the gravedigger's shovel. The powerful images and
haunting music at the beginning of the film dramatize the plight of
homeless people. The black and white images establish a new perspective on
the homeless people so many Americans try not to see.

  Takeover takes the viewer to the streets to hear the real stories of
homeless people and behind the scenes of the homeless movement. Kinoy and
Yates artfully compile footage shot in several formats at a variety of
locations. The film serves not only to humanize homeless people but it puts
their decision to take direct action in context. After homeless people
demonstrated before the national offices of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD), HUD promised that 10 percent of HUD housing would be allocated for
the homeless. When HUD failed to keep that promise, homeless people decided
to "take over" the buildings.

  Leona Smith, executive director of the National Union of the Homeless and
a former homeless person herself, uses Takeover to train members of other
homeless organizations from Canada, Mexico, and throughout the United
States. She says:

  "What makes Takeover so unique is that it shows homeless people taking
their own initiative to fight for social change and affordable housing. It
shows homeless people organizing. It shows homeless people planning up
until the very day. Before Takeover, there was nothing that showed homeless
people doing for themselves. It inspires you, if you're on the street and
you see a house standing there vacant, to take the boards off the doors."