Thoughts about the Director’s Cut from The Overnighters documentary – part 7

This is the final post in a series discussing my reactions to the director’s cut of the documentary, The Overnighters.

I was privileged to be able to see a screening of the documentary when Jesse Moss, the director, was personally present for a question & answer session after the viewing.

Here is one the questions asked, which is as close to a quote as I can recall:

Why don’t the oil companies, who are making billions of dollars from all the oil, do something to take care of the homeless in Williston?

The questioner wanted to know essentially how there can be any homelessness in Williston with the huge amount of profits made by the big bad oil companies.

I chuckled.

That shows a clear combination of two factors:  First, a very slanted, biased worldview. Second, the idea that the only thing that exists in the world is what I can see in front of me at this moment.

What the questioner can see is maybe 50 people trying to get on their feet and about a half-dozen who could not do so.

What the questioner cannot see is the thousands upon thousands of bedrooms located in mancamps which are paid for by a variety of drilling companies. (Target Logistics has somewhere around 4,000 beds in their 10 facilities.)

It is my understanding that essentially all of the drilling companies and most other companies provided housing for all of their staff. In addition to the big paychecks, one of the major reasons to apply with the drillers was to get company-paid housing.

The implication from the questioner is the oil companies should also have been providing housing for people who weren’t working for them and all the people the companies knew nothing about.

Also missing from the questioner’s field-of-view is that when the movie was being filmed, the major oil companies were not present in Williston. They are now. At the time there were hundreds of employers in the oil patch. One of the astounding parts of the shale oil revolution is that it was discovered and developed by small players – the big companies were quite late to the game.

Also missing from his field of vision is the roughly 20,000 people who have moved to Williston, found work, found a job, eventually found a place to live, and are functioning well. Most of those people are making more money than they’ve ever seen in their life.

Within his view are half a dozen men who failed. Out of his direct view are 20,000 men who succeeded.  (At the time of the documentary, the overall ratio of men to women in Williston was generally perceived to be about 10:1. There are more women showing up in the oil patch now, but there were very few a couple of years ago.)

Here are merely the first few questions I would like to ask the questioner, which would reflect back to him the highly distorted worldview built into his question:

  • How can there be any homeless people in Hollywood, with the billions and billions and billions of dollars that the studios are making from movies every year? Why don’t the big movie studios get every homeless person in Hollywood off the street? Do people working in the movie industry not care about their down-and-out neighbors?
  • How can there be any homeless people on the streets in Sacramento when the state government has an annual budget of over $110,000,000,000? – that’s over a hundred billion bucks. (Repeat question substituting surplus reportedly over $2 billion this year.) Surely that’s enough money to get the several hundred people in Sacramento off the street, isn’t it?
  • With a median household income of $71,000 back in 2009 before the economy recovered, and median income for a family at $109,000, how can there possibly be any homeless people on the streets in Santa Monica, which is the city where I saw the documentary? With that incredible amount of average earnings, how could there possibly be any homeless people in the city? Why don’t the people in that rich town take care of their neighbors? Why are they so cold to newcomers? With their incredible wealth, how can they possibly look at themselves in the mirror each morning?
  • For each of the churches, synagogues, and social organizations in Santa Monica and Hollywood, can you tell us how many homeless people are typically sleeping in your fellowship hall or your sanctuary or your conference room every night? How about an average overnight occupancy rate for the last eighteen months? Concordia Lutheran could. Every employer in North Dakota can.

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