By: Tim Houchen
October 14, 2019 —
Once-upon-a-time, a portly pitch man promised that, “We will sell no wine before its time.” This slogan presupposes a product of superior quality and speculates that wine improves over time, which is known to be true by those who appreciate fine wine.
It’s not the words in this slogan that convinced the masses to purchase Paul Masson wine in such record amounts, however, it was the way the words were spoken by Orson Welles with such confidence that ultimately sent consumers running to stores to buy it.
John Underwood is no Shakespearean actor, nor does he boast about his abilities as a journalist. His work does the talking for him. For the past three years his work has been following and documenting the ongoing homeless crisis in Orange County at street level.
John is an award-winning documentary journalist
John Underwood is a lifetime professional journalist that values the high standards of “quality” as opposed to “quantity” reporting. This probably explains why he is so comfortable today producing documentary film relating to the hot-button issue of our day, homelessness. His resume includes 13 years working for National Public Radio as a reporter in L.A. and he was employed locally for several years as a contributing reporter for OC Weekly and the Orange County Register. When John is not busy documenting the struggle of homeless persons throughout Orange County he works as a Production Coordinator for Los Alamitos T.V. where he produces what he describes as a talk show named Back Story. The show tackles the issues of the day and often attracts some high-profile guests to the Los Alamitos T.V. studios. Last year, reporters Nick Gerda and Spencer Custodio both from the Voice of OC, appeared in a Back Story episode titled, Homeless in OC. John earned a W.A.V.E. award (See photo above) for excellence in local cable programming for his effort.
It’s not likely that anyone has captured as much video footage as John has during this homeless crisis, but what I find to be most amazing is how little of the finished product that has been made public. In fact, until a week or two ago John had not released any of his documentary work with OC’s homeless at all. Instead he has spent the better part of the past two years building relationships and a reputation of trust with persons experiencing homelessness which has earned him the opportunity of interviewing and filming them in up-close-and-personal and sometimes potentially awkward situations. No other professional journalist can claim such intimate access to the homeless community in Orange County.
About “No Fixed Abode” a multi-part documentary by John Underwood
On September 20, 2019, John Underwood published the first installment of a multi-part documentary series titled, “No Fixed Abode“. The series in all earnest, is the fruit of John’s efforts over the past two years of working with the homeless at street level. Part 1 of the multi-series documentary is titled, “D-Day in the Park,” which chronicles the ultimate displacement of homeless persons encamped at Maxwell Park in Anaheim on December 21, 2018.
Just days prior to the December 21st, the City of Anaheim opened a homeless shelter in compliance with a federal court order to provide shelter beds for homeless persons living within the city’s borders. An injunctive order issued by Federal Judge David Carter revoked the city’s authority to enforce its anti-camping ordinances thereby allowing homeless persons to camp on public property until the terms of the settlement were satisfied. As is always the case in this situation, the jurisdiction involved in this case Anaheim, responds with urgency to begin enforcing laws targeted at homeless persons rather than addressing the human condition of homelessness itself. The remaining people encamped at Maxwell Park were determined to be resistant to using the shelter. And so the order came down, “Get off of our streets, go to the shelter or be thrown in jail.”
Since this action to displace homeless persons from Maxwell Park was planned to take place on Friday December 21st and notifications had been posted in advance, I sent letters to new Mayor Harry Siddhu and Anaheim Councilmembers asking that the action be postponed until after our event for National Homeless Persons Memorial Day and was scheduled to take place on that day. I never received any response to my letters. So much for dignity and respect for persons experiencing homelessness in a city that proudly calls itself, “The City of Kindness.”
What does No Fixed Abode mean?
Through my nonprofit organization, Hope 4 Restoration, I organize events each year in recognition of National Homeless Persons Memorial Day which falls on December 21st each year. The term “No Fixed Abode” is a term that the county coroner uses to identify the dead bodies of homeless persons that stack up in the morgue because they are often unclaimed by next of kin. The coroner will contact persons living at the last known address of the deceased to verify any association with persons living there, but unless there is a family member to claim the body it’s listed as No Fixed Abode.
The first time I met John Underwood was at our event the “Longest Night” in recognition of National Homeless Persons Memorial Day on December 21, 2017. At the conclusion of the event there were several news reporters from the usual media sources that wanted to interview me and John was the last reporter that I spoke with, but he had the biggest damn camera of all of the reporters that day.
I’m not shy when it comes to speaking with reporters, especially when trying to raise public awareness for my cause, which in this case was a high rate of mortality among our homeless community here in Orange County, so I am purposeful in my messages with news reporters. I was real excited about being interviewed by John because he was with a T.V. news service. I thought for sure that I could expect to go home later that evening and see myself in a local news broadcast. I must have asked John half a dozen times when and where I could see the broadcast and we ended in agreement that we would swap business cards and he would inform me when the story would air and maybe he could get any additional information necessary to add to the story before going public with it.
Within a few days afterwards, I received a phone call from John and we set an appointment to meet for coffee for the first of many long and deep discussions about homelessness here in Orange County. It was during these discussions that I really got to know John Underwood and began to sense his sincerity for creating a documentary that really represented the voices of the persons that he interviewed and filmed rather than just creating a documentary from personal perspective or opinion. And of course as usual, I would always ask when he was planning to make the documentary public. Perhaps, you can imagine my excitement that this story is finally being told. If I have learned anything about waiting for John’s documentary, it has to have been patience.
John once explained to me that today’s news is just a summary of events and vital statistics. A journalist will follow news events as they develop into a story and document the elements of the story over time. Sometimes it’s better to allow a story to develop in order to tell a more accurate story and to determine the the right time to tell the story.
This is likely the reason why I am reminded of the slogan for Paul Masson wine and how it relates to John. “We will sell no wine before its time.
“John will publish no documentary before its time.” But when he does publish a documentary, it may not be often, but you can be sure of the quality, and just like a fine wine, aged to perfection.
Please watch Part 1 of John Underwoods multi-part documentary, No Fixed Abode by clicking here. Stay tuned for Part 2 scheduled for release in the coming weeks and all remaining parts will be reported here on Homeless Perspective.
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