Struggling to Survive Another Day

Still from Darrin Dressler’s documentary “Camp 6ixx,” named for the homeless people’s camp that sprang up in Westport in the spring of 2021

New documentary chronicles life of the homeless in Kansas City

Documentary filmmaker Darrin Dressler is looking for $50,000 in post-production funding to complete “Camp 6ixx,” his heartfelt examination of homeless people in Kansas City and the public-spirited choices that could be made to dramatically improve their inhumane situation.

“People who are homeless have told me, and I agree, that it’s a humanitarian crisis,” Dressler says. “It’s like what happens after a natural disaster. It’s like Somalia. You see it: There’s people out there on the street with nothing, and they’re in the elements all the time with no food and no health treatment and no resources. And for some reason, here in America, it’s not seen as what it is. I’m shocked that it’s not being dealt with as a humanitarian crisis.”

“Camp 6ixx” would be the culmination of Dressler’s career since 2019, when he established his own documentary and video production company dedicated to non-profit causes. Before that, he spent more than a decade working on ride-share and air-quality programs at the Mid-America Regional Council. He’s also been a mental health worker and a substitute teacher.

“Camp 6ixx” is named for the homeless people’s camp that sprang up in Westport in the spring of 2021 to protest the tragic death of Scott “6ixx” Eicke, who was without shelter and died of hypothermia Jan. 1, 2021, in Kansas City. Over the course of two eye-opening years, Dressler shot principal photography at Camp 6ixx and other homeless people’s camps in Kansas City, where he got to know folks who were struggling to simply survive another day.

KC Studio: What are the challenges of making a documentary film about homeless people?

Dressler: Number one, most people don’t want to acknowledge that it’s there. So it’s kind of almost a taboo subject.

Do you think homelessness is just too painful to fully acknowledge for some people? Too upsetting?

That’s one part of it. Another part of it, and the film will show this, is how the system is not working correctly. The safety net, or whatever you want to call it, is not working for these people or they wouldn’t be out there.

Over the course of two eye-opening years, Dressler shot principal photography at Camp 6ixx and other homeless people’s camps in Kansas City, captured in these stills.

How did the homeless people you met and got to know feel about their situation?

The most common reaction that I’ve gotten from people who are homeless — when they talk about what’s happening and what the city tries to do, what non-profits are trying to do and what individuals try to do — they say, ‘It’s just a Band-Aid.’ It’s a Band-Aid on a giant, gaping wound and, in their words, nothing’s going to change. I heard that over and over and over again.

So instead of applying Band-Aids, it’s time for major surgery?

Yeah, I think the system’s broken. People who were homeless told me that they thought that the city’s plan was to divide and conquer, to break up these camps and keep them from public view. And then the problem just slowly fades away into the woods and then there’s no more problem.

Will “Camp 6ixx” offer hope as well as hard truth?

Well, that’s the goal. It’s to raise awareness and get that momentum to find realistic structural changes that will help people in this situation. The idea is to focus on some organizations that are making a difference, like Tiny Homes at Eden Village and Care Beyond the Boulevard. There’s also an organization called Artists Helping the Homeless that works outside of the normal government funding system, and it’s an amazing program that works with people that are homeless and helps them transition into housing and then getting their educations and helping them find jobs. There are people that are doing amazing work, but it’s on such a small scale.

Let me put you on the spot: What’s the answer to ending homelessness?

Housing. The answer is housing. There’s a model that’s called Housing First and it’s by Sam Tsemberis. And Housing First says to take homeless people from where they are, put them into housing and give them a place to stay. Then we work with the mental health treatment that they need. We work with them if they need substance abuse treatment. We get them IDs. We get them the paperwork. We get them job opportunities. They’ve got a shower. They can take care of themselves. And then they go find a job. They can make some money. They can move from the temporary-slash-permanent housing and lead a regular life. That’s the answer.

Still from Darrin Dressler’s documentary “Camp 6ixx”

How’s the fundraising for “Camp 6ixx” going?

I’ve talked to a lot of people about funding. And they tell me that there’s plenty of money out there. It’s just a matter of finding the right person or group that believes in this film to tell the story. I’d like to get the funding to produce the film by the end of the year.

Why have you stuck with this?

Because this is their voice. That’s the whole thing about this. It’s because of the people that trusted me to tell their story. So many of these people allowed me into their worst nightmare, one that they never thought they would experience in their entire lives. They let me into their world and let me see what was happening and let me talk with them and film them and make relationships with them. This is their voice to raise awareness about the reality of what’s happening in their world and to find solutions.

For more information about “Camp 6ixx,” visit www.camp6ixx.com

To support the film, visit camp6ixx.wedid.it/campaigns/11193-a-documentary-film-on-homelessness-in-kansas-city

All images from the artist

Brian McTavish

Brian McTavish is a freelance writer specializing in the arts and pop culture. He was an arts and entertainment writer for more than 20 years at The Kansas City Star. He regularly shared his “Weekend To-Do List” at KCUR-FM (89.3)/kcur.org.

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