God Bless the Child (1988)
A Homeless Mare
Poverty is like, like a disease, grabs a hold of you and don't let go, it keeps on beating you down - Calvin
"God Bless the Child" stars Mare Winningham as Theresa Johnson a single mum ever since her husband cleared off and facing homelessness when her landlord decides to evict everyone. With little money and her daughter Hilary (Grace Johnston) to worry about they are forced to seek out temporary residence in shelters but with limited beds and limited time available it is a case of moving about and that isn't good news when she loses her job having had to take time off to register at another shelter. Even when an outreach worker comes to Theresa's aid things don't get much better as whilst he finds her a cheap home to rent money is tight, food stamps run out and the place is over run with rats. When Hilary's health begins to suffer Theresa must think what would be best for her daughter in the long run.
Until you have been homeless you have no idea what it is like and I say that from first hand experience of having lived rough for a while and trying to find some place to sleep at night, although sleep is something you didn't do. Now in fairness my experiences of being homeless not only came 25 years after "God Bless the Child" was made but in the UK rather than the US but trust me some things don't change when it comes to being homeless whether it is in the UK or US.
Now the thing about "God Bless the Child" is that rather than being a story about a person it more uses a person, in this case Theresa to highlight the homeless situation. We learn things from how shelters allow you to stay for so many days before you need to find somewhere else, you see how not having a permanent address makes it nearly impossible to get a job, we see that options are limited, how disease spreads in the poor conditions and how even removing your shoes in a shelter can see them being stolen. There is a lot more of these high impact scenes which try to open up the audiences eyes to how difficult it is to be poor and homeless and how much harder it is too escape from poverty.
Now Mare Winningham is the star of "God Bless the Child" and she is fantastic as she leads us through the difficulties of being a homeless single mum, the emotions of trying to care for a child who doesn't understand, the naivety of being homeless but Winningham never over plays it. When she learns that her welfare check will take 4 weeks to arrive her response is dead on perfect. But Mare Winningham is surrounded but equally good performances from Grace Johnston as her daughter Hilary, Dorian Harewood as sympathetic social worker Calvin and a young Mos Def as a teenager called Richard who is bright but might get held back by his poverty.
What this all boils down to is that "God Bless the Child" is a fantastic look at what its like to be homeless and penniless which whilst focused on the US situation of the 80s is not only timeless but universal as the same issues and problems are still going on now. It is an eye opening experience for those who have never dealt with homelessness whilst an emotion filled recollection for those who have and have come out the other side.
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