Monday, June 18, 2007

Wild Boys of the Road

DC Trip Yields Big Movie Find

I was in DC last week for the National Coalition for the Homeless meeting and got to marvel at the extreme level of security, while so many in the city have no housing security. How can so many funds and resources be directed at protecting buildings while our "leaders" step over fellow citizens who are left vulnerable and unsafe? It will never cease to amaze me how government officials capable of ending homelessness drive by or walk over humans on their way to cast a vote that could end all this suffering.

NCH worked on policy issues and various bills that are winding their way around Washington that would change homelessness. We have a summary of the bills we are following in the June newsletter of NEOCH.

One great piece of history that I found when I was in DC was a movie called Wild Boys of the Road from 1933. I had to go to the Library of Congress to see the movie, but it was worth the hassle of trying to find the movie room. After walking down long halls that all look the same for 40 minutes, I found the correct room. It was a depression era film with great relevance for today especially in Cleveland. The folks at NCH actually found the movie and passed the information on to me. [*Spoiler Alert*] I am going to give away the ending of the movie because it is long out of print, and I doubt many will go to DC to schedule a movie screening from the Library of Congress.

Eddie, Tommy, and Grace were the Wild Boys who were around 16 years old and discovered that there families could not afford to keep them. They hopped a train to Chicago to look for work. There were these groups of well dressed men who would wait at the train station and round up the train stowaways for jail or a return to their city of origin. They hopped on the next train to Columbus, Ohio and got stopped 10 miles outside of town. This time Eddie led a rebellion against the nicely dressed thugs waiting to arrest the train stowaways. Tommy got his leg cut off while jumping from a train, and they ran into some really bad railroad employees who raped one of the female stowaways.

The group made it up to Cleveland next and lived in a tent city near the train station. The group lived in those giant sewer pipes waiting to be carried out on the trains. The tent city grew and soon hundreds were sleeping on the outskirts of Cleveland. They would go downtown in large gangs and cover every street corner with panhandlers. They would ask every business owner, every pedestrian for money as they moved down the street 50 strong. Much as today, this was too much for the Mayor who ordered a break up of the tents by sending police into order the boys to leave the City. The headlines screamed, "Sewer Pipe City Must Go" and "Police Seek to Control Vagrants." The police were very kind and spoke in the finest Queens English while asking the men to move on. One police officer was sad that he had his own children and that he saw in the faces of his children every time he looked at the kids sleeping in the sewer pipes . The police were sad that they had to evict these kids, but then they turned the hoses on these squatters.

The group made it to New York City and got mixed up with the wrong people. They got arrested and went before a judge. At first, the judge was going to throw the book at them because they would not give up their parents names or the city that they came from. Eddie and Tommy give a great speech about homelessness:
"Edward 'Eddie' Smith: [to judge] I knew all that stuff about you helping us was baloney. I'll tell you why we can't go home--because our folks are poor. They can't get jobs and there isn't enough to eat. What good will it do you to send us home to starve? You say you've got to send us to jail to keep us off the streets. Well, that's a lie. You're sending us to jail because you don't want to see us. You want to forget us. But you can't do it because I'm not the only one. There's thousands just like me, and there's more hitting the road every day.
Tommy Gordon: You read in the papers about giving people help. The banks get it. The soldiers get it. The breweries get it. And they're always yelling about giving it to the farmers. What about us? We're kids!

Edward 'Eddie' Smith: Go ahead! Put me in a cell. Lock me up! I'm sick of being hungry and cold. Sick of freight trains. Jail can't be any worse than the street. So give it to me!"
The judge relents and says "I am going to help you." I am going to assign someone to your case to help you with housing, jobs, and then rejoin your family. He said things will turn around and everything is going to be better. This was the best part of the movie, because it shows what we need today. Our system is so fractured today no one ever says, "I will help you with everything." They say go here to get this, then go here to get that and then get on this waiting list. Many people are looking for the kind of help in our community as this benevolent judge offered solid help with all the kids issues. This movie was cheesy with outdated language and a high entertainment value, but it had a good message that has resonance today. Where are the judges, social workers or case workers who solve people's problems? Two thumbs way up for Wild Boys of the Road, which shows us that government can work and can solve problems.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

1 comment:

Cynthia Miller said...


The characters in this movie weren't that much younger than my father who came to Cleveland looking for work shortly after graduating high school in 1929. I don't know exactly the year he came to Cleveland but it was during the Great Depression and he did find work here as the manager of a Kroger grocery store.

Although, Dad died in 1971 when I was 15 years old, I do know a little about the poverty he witnessed the short time he lived here.

He told me that because many families in the neighborhood, where his store was located, couldn't afford many of the groceries (especially meat) that they needed to feed their families so much of the meat and produce was at risk of spoiling.

Rather than throwing out what was left at the end of the week (and remember stores in those days were not open 24/7 or on Sunday) he made sure that the neighborhood families would benefit and have meat for a good meal or two.

Dad had purchased a new garbage can and set it out in the alley beside the back door of the store. He instructed his employees not to use this can and that it was for his own personal use only.

At the end of the week when meat cooler displays had to be emptied and unsold meat and produce had to be disposed of, Dad cleaned out the displays himself putting the food in the clean can in the alley. After he locked up, he distributed the food to families in the neighborhood instructing them that it must be cooked immediately.

I'm sure if my dad were alive today and witnessed how the poor and homeless are treated by society, government, etc. it would sicken him.

And I wonder too how he would feel knowing that his daughter was once homeless in Cleveland.

By the way, this film is available on DVD and VHS and was also released under the title "Dangerous Days".

Cynthia Miller
NEOCH Board Member