An unprecedented TV series done by the homeless about homelessness
Striving To Reach Educate And Transform Society
by Making Sense...of Life on the Streets
Televised Close-Ups of Street Life
By Sylvia Moreno
On a chilly, gray morning in McPherson Square in downtown Washington, a man named Wylie sits and talks to a companion while a videographer films the scene.
Wylie says he is a disabled military veteran and has been homeless for three years in Washington, staying in shelters at night and attending a psychiatric program during the day to work on his "emotion regulation" and substance-abuse recovery. He says that he takes his medications -- some daily, some twice a month -- and that he knows that if he sticks to the regimen, he can function and make his way back to self-sufficiency.
"The hope is that one day I can be an average typical individual that went to combat and . . . [got] back in the mainstream of life," he says.
"All right, cut!" the director calls.
Fact or fiction? Documentary or reality show? TV drama or public-service programming?
A little bit of all of these, actually. It's called "STREATS Television," a monthly series about the homeless, made by the homeless.
Taping resumes, and the scene features two other men who try to pick up a young woman, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend. The boyfriend: Martin Walker, an actual homeless man who is trying to make it back into society and his own place by making money selling newspapers.
A fight ensues among the rivals for the woman's attention, followed by a stand-up monologue on the topic of "Romance" by a gravelly voiced sage identified as Cliff. "Hey, just 'cause we're homeless don't mean we don't have biological urges. One of them is to eat and the other is to procreate," he says. "We're human beings. Just cause we're homeless don't mean we don't have feelings, just like you do."
"STREATS Television" is the brainchild of D.C. government employee Gregory Wragg, who used to make the trip every Monday night to McPherson Square with members of his church to hand out sandwiches to the homeless people who congregate there.
That felt good for a while, said Wragg, 44, a contract manager for the D.C. Department of Employment Services who lives in District Heights. But soon, he said, he began to think that his effort was redundant, as he watched myriad organizations feed the homeless at the park several times a day. "There seemed to be no coordination among all the groups, and then I began to hear the stories of the homeless and I saw the passion that they have for life," he said.
Wragg, an amateur television producer who had created another public-access television program, decided to funnel his desire to do something for the homeless into a show that would be a tool for both education and advocacy. He came up with STREATS, an acronym for Strives to Reach, Educate and Transform Society, "by making sense of life on the streets," according to his Web site. Wragg's goal: to humanize a population often ignored by society, to discuss the realities and challenges of homeless life from the perspective of those who live it, and to advocate for changes in the way D.C. government and nonprofit agencies serve the population. Wragg features real-life accounts from people who became homeless after losing a job or being gentrified out of their apartments, and he posts r??sum??s for potential employers to see.
"I would say I had a calling to do this," Wragg said. "I just knew there was something I had to go ahead and do."
Wragg began his project this year by going to the offices of StreetSense, the newspaper distributed by the District's homeless population, and to two shelters in the District that also run Christian-based social-service programs, Central Union Mission and Gospel Rescue Ministries. He looked for people interested in learning television production to help him put together the show and, more important, in learning a marketable skill. Wragg financed TV production classes for six people at DCTV, the District's public access channel.
Most of the TV series was filmed in McPherson Square during the summer, with the topics, storylines and improvised dialogue suggested by the homeless and formerly homeless people whom Wragg features. Some of the actors took the TV production class; others, such as Wylie, were picked at the park for impromptu roles.
Vincent Wigfall, formerly homeless, videotaped much of the series. Wragg, whose company is called Ragidy Entertainment, is the executive producer, director and editor. Seven half-hour shows have been produced on topics such as the difficulties the homeless have trying to find bathrooms, stay clean and obtain health care. The first show aired this month on public access channels in the District and Prince George's, Montgomery, Arlington and Fairfax counties. The series continues through May.
Among the regulars on the show are Cliff Carle Jr., 58, who has lived in the District's oldest and largest shelter, Community for Creative Non-Violence, for two years. He also shoots photographs for "StreetSense" and has his own segment on the TV show. The segment is called "Cliff Notes," and he answers questions e-mailed to "STREATS Television", such as an inquiry about sex and the homeless, which was the inspiration for the monologue on romance.
Another is Brenda Karlyn Wilson-Lee, 52, whose segment is "BelieveO'Bull Brenda." In one episode, she said she has been homeless for four years, eight months and two days. Her no-nonsense monologue points out that many meals put together by well-intentioned volunteers include too many starches or don't make sense, such as hot soup on a hot day, or are not appetizing -- a sandwich with baloney and cheese spread, for example.
"We are very grateful for anything that we receive, because when you're hungry, you will eat anything. But please, feed us something decent. Feed us something good," said Wilson-Lee, who since the segment was filmed left the shelter system and is a live-in home helper for an elderly person. "Just because it's cheap, just because it's old or won't go bad quickly doesn't necessarily mean we want it. Try and remember we want to be fed decent, good meals, just like you."
The broadcast schedule for STREATS Television on Washington area public-access channels can be found athttp://streats.tv.
Gregory Wragg's STREATS Television takes a focused look at the homeless.
By Matthew Borlik
Gregory Wragg has spent his fair share of time and effort aiding Washington, D.C.?s homeless community. But when he first began developing the concept for his homeless-issues-based STREATS Television series a year ago, the 44-year-old District Heights resident quickly decided that the best course of action would be to take the bulk of the work out of his hands.
?Instead of trying to sell [the homeless] on a concept, I decided to let them develop a concept,? Wragg says of the show, for which he serves as executive producer. ?I sponsored six individuals to go through some training at DCTV, and in the process they learned about camerawork, camera angles, storylines, editing, directing. That saved me the process of having to do any of that or bringing in anybody to do that. Basically, I said, ?Why don?t you guys just do the whole thing???
STREATS, an acronym for ?Strives to Reach, Educate, and Transform Society,? ?utilizes homeless and formerly homeless individuals to film, direct, host, commentate, and act out different aspects of homelessness in a comical, sarcastic, yet serious way,? according to the show?s Web site, streats.tv. ?You hear that [the homeless] have a voice, but after a while that voice starts to sound the same. The stories sound the same; they run over one another,? Wragg says. ?I wanted to actually find a way that we could get our message out, but in a manner that people would listen to it.?
So far, Wragg and his cast and crew?which includes individuals involved with Street Sense newspaper, Central Union Mission, and Gospel Rescue Ministries?have completed seven 30-minute episodes that are set to run on public television stations in D.C., Prince George?s County, and Arlington County in November. (The television schedule will be posted on the show?s Web site once it becomes available.) The first episode, ?Gotta Go,? focuses on the daily challenge of relieving one?s self with at least some degree of privacy; later episodes examine the various ways in which the homeless find food and how they obtain proper medical care. Featured in each episode are several recurring cast members, including Cliff Carle, the host of the ?Cliff Notes? ?question-and-answer segments, and Brenda Wilson, aka ?BelieveO?Bull Brenda,? who discusses many of the difficulties faced by the ?homeless?some of which are the kinds of things that would make homeless people wary of a man waving a video camera in their faces.
?There?s a level of trust that you have to get in order to even gain access to their territory,? Wragg says.
Once that trust was gained, however, Wragg found that he had a crew every bit as responsible and dedicated as any professional crew with which he had worked previously.
Get your copy of STREATS TV featuring:
Episodes 1 "Gotta Go" Homelessness and Bathrooms
Episode 2 "Eat This" Homelessness and Food Distribution and Diet
Episode 3 "Open Wide" Homelessness and Medical Care
more Cast and Crew
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