Homeless in Tahoe slowly moving from woods to hotels

Homeless in Tahoe slowly moving from woods to hotels

Efforts are under way in South Lake Tahoe to get people out of the wood and into more stable housing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Homelessness is becoming less of a problem in South Lake Tahoe—sort of. A concerted effort is under way to get those living in the woods to be housed in hotels as a transition before paying their own rent for a more traditional apartment or the like.

This fall Police Chief David Stevenson launched STACS, or South Tahoe Alternative Collaborative Services. The main players are the police department, Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless, and El Dorado County’s Behavioral Health Department. Barton Health will also have a significant role. In October, Stevenson gave a presentation to the City Council about the initiative.

STACS came out of a grand jury report that said countywide there needed to be an improvement between law enforcement and the county’s behavioral health services. In April, the chief put together a homeless outreach team when the school resource officers were not needed at the campuses because of the pandemic. (With school resuming onsite, the officers have returned to their regular jobs.) Even so, a different cop has been named the homeless outreach officer; a position the department has never had before.

“I started looking around and found out that we have a lot of the pieces and all these players. We were all doing our own thing in a vacuum. I thought we could do better and do so with a more collaborative approach,” Stevenson said.

His first call was to Cheyenne Purrington, executive director of the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless. She started working at the 5-year-old South Lake Tahoe nonprofit in January. The STACS working group started meeting last month.

“The goal is to get people stabilized and housed,” Stevenson said. “The selfish goal for the police department is to reduce the number of people in crisis.” This in turn means reducing the number of violent encounters. “The power of the group is that we get that person what they need to maintain their stability.” This is done with follow up visits with the person when he or she is not in crisis.

Stevenson looked at other programs in the area and country to see what is working to come up with STACS. Because there is some overlap in who the police deal with and who the homeless coalition sees, they are natural partners. The coalition has a good handle on how many homeless people are in the area, which is way beyond the numbers the police see in their line of work.

The police interact with the homeless if there is suspected criminal activity or if they are trespassing by erecting a camp. A massive camp was broken up early this past summer behind Motel 6. A 40-yard dumpster was filled with the trash that was left behind. Up and down the Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek are common places for the homeless to set up camp. Most camps are an environmental nightmare, a fire threat, and often involve petty crime in nearby neighborhoods—with the theft of propane tanks common.

Part of the every 10-year Census count is a tabulation of the homeless. This took place across the U.S. on Sept. 22-24, including in South Lake Tahoe.

“Counting people outside in transitory locations is just one way we count this population,” Donald Bendz with the U.S. Census Bureau said. “The U.S. Census Bureau works with a number of organizations who provide services to people who are experiencing homelessness. We set up appointments with soup kitchens, shelters and others during our three-day operation. During these appointments we work with the service based organization to enumerate their clients.”

South Lake Tahoe police officers often get calls in the non-snow months about various homeless encampments. In September a couple people were asked to move on. This is the normal procedure—the homeless are told to leave, officers follow-up to make sure they are gone, then any clean up that is required is done.

Stevenson said he knew nothing about the Census count, nor were the people moved in September done so to sway the count. The Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless doesn’t rely on the Census numbers, instead the nonprofit uses the counts taken every other January. The next will be in 2021. In 2019, 110 homeless people were counted in South Lake Tahoe.

El Dorado County also relies on the biennial Point in Time, or PIT, count. “Federal and state funders tend to use the metrics of the PIT count data upon which to base funding to counties and states for implementation of programs to address homelessness,” Margaret Williams, county health program manager, said.

For now, there is plenty of cash to deal with the South Lake Tahoe homeless issue thanks to a nearly $10 million grant from the state as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Homekey. TCH is in negotiations to purchase two hotels for the purpose of providing transitional housing for the homeless. The goal is get everyone off the street, so to speak. However, those working on this endeavor acknowledge there will always be a few people who choose the outdoors.

TCH when it first started as an all-volunteer group had a seasonal warming room where the homeless could sleep overnight. The group has evolved to have paid staff working on more permanent solutions. Now about 30 people are housed in a 22-unit hotel in town. Negotiations are under way to secure two more hotels (not in the tourist core) for the homeless, with the hopes those will be available this year. According to Purrington with the TCH, her agency serves about 400 people a year. Not all need shelter, some only use the services that are provided. The current offices are above Christmas Cheer. Computers are available to apply for jobs, check on benefits like Social Security, or contact veterans’ services. The space also has a shower. A private area is set up for telemedicine.

A significant number of TCH clients have income, whether it’s from the government or having a job. The problem is not having enough for rent, let alone first, last and a deposit. Getting people into the hotels will give them a sense of having a home. This will allow for the various social services to be able to easier reach this group of people. Those with the means could then possibly rent an apartment or house with others, splitting the rent and having what would be a real home.

“A homeless person costs a community $35,000 a year,” Purrington said. This is the price of emergency intervention, which includes food, interactions with law enforcement, trips to the emergency room, cleaning up homeless camps, and more. “The cost for supportive housing is about $11,000. It really is an investment.” And in most cases that is state and/or federal money, as is the case with Project Homekey.

An education in frustration at LTCC

An education in frustration at LTCC

For someone who has usually had good experiences with Lake Tahoe Community College, these last few months have taken a turn for the worse. One had to do with essentially being a contract employee and the other as a student.

I was contacted in July by the head of Connect Education at the college to be an instructor during a weeklong kids’ tennis clinic at South Tahoe High School. It sounded like fun. And it was.

The problem was all the paperwork. My in box continues to ping with another email from the college regarding a five-day job that ended months ago. Some would say I was a difficult hire, though I like to think I was the logical, pragmatic temporary worker.

I was asked to do this job just a few days before it was to start on July 20. I was not warned that I would have to fill out a ton of ridiculous paperwork. First came the application even though I already had the job.

After the third day of camp was done more paperwork filled my in box. The college wanted me to get a TB test and fingerprints, as well as take more than three hours’ worth of online training. I balked at all of this. After all, I was 60 percent done with my job. The TB test and fingerprinting would not be able to be done that week, and therefore the results would have come after the job was complete. So, really, what was the point? The HR director said the point was that these were the rules. It did not matter that the rules made no sense.

One of the documents I was asked to fill out was an auto pay form. It said it could take two to three months after being accepted to get paid. I said never mind, just write me a check.

I had to prove who I was with all the regular documentation HR departments/the government demands. I provided a copy of my passport. The HR director said she had to see it in person. I said, really? That was BS in this time of a pandemic for me to have to come indoors to prove who I was when there were plenty of people at the college who could have verified the passport was mine. This shouldn’t even be a necessity for a non-local new hire. We met outside the library for her to look at my passport and see that it was me.

While I was told I could not get paid without the TB test or fingerprinting, as well as doing the online training, I got paid and never did any of those things. I still get emails telling me I’m overdue in my training. The courses were:

  • Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Prevention
  • Fire Extinguisher Safety
  • Hazard Communication: Right to Understand
  • Injury and Illness Prevention Program
  • LTCC IIPP Plan
  • Mandated Reporter: Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Safety Data Sheets
  • Sexual Harassment Prevention for Non-Managers.

I’m not saying the training would not have been worthwhile. But if it’s so dang important, why was I hired and able to do three out of the five days of work before being asked to take the classes? Clearly, the system is not working. I do question whether all of that was necessary for the job I was hired to do. Well, we do know the classes weren’t necessary because I did the job, have never taken the classes, and got paid–eventually.

I had worked for the college years ago as an adjunct faculty member and as a tutor, but I still had to go through a process as though I was a full-time hire, instead of working for about 15 hours for one week. Even the college president thought the process I had to go through was crazy. I contacted him after I was done working, but while the human resources director continued to harass me to fill out more paperwork. I wanted him to know how insane all of this was. He agreed, and said he would look into it.

My issue as a student had to do with signing up for an online Spanish class for this fall. This was to be my first remote class. With being familiar with Zoom meetings and other webinars, I wrongly assumed this is how online classes worked.

I never bothered to ask friends who had taken an online class and others who taught them what it was really like. I didn’t know the class didn’t meet as a class, but instead we were given assignments by the teacher with a deadline to meet. I know my annunciation is horrific when it comes to the Spanish language, so I was looking forward to being corrected in the moment and hearing how the words should actually be spoken. The online learning LTCC offered was not going to give me what I wanted. I dropped the class.

Even that, though, was not smooth. While my credit card was charged the day I signed up for the class, it was not credited the day I dropped. It took two calls to get my money back, and even then the second person said it would take a few days. The credit finally arrived on my card.

I won’t even go into how non-intuitive it is to deal with LTCC online classes. It took talking to a friend and the admissions office to figure things out and I’m not computer illiterate.

I’m sure with how difficult I was with filling out paperwork, the college won’t be hiring me any time soon. That’s OK, though I did enjoy the tennis camp. As for classes, I’ll wait until they are in person.

Being a poll worker provides unique look into election

Being a poll worker provides unique look into election

If only people could get along as well outside of a voting center as they do inside of it. People exercising their right to vote on Nov. 3 were patient while at times having to wait more than an hour at Lake Tahoe Community College. Only a handful of people had to be told their mask needed to cover their nose. A few were miffed California does not require identification in order to vote. Everyone could agree on one thing—they were eager for the opportunity to vote.

As a poll worker for El Dorado County on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, it was an up close experience into the elections process that I had never experienced. Some of my coworkers have been doing this for years. A county employee was there much of Election Day. Most of us were just ordinary citizens interested in the process. We received a stipend each day of work, which after tallying the hours came out to about minimum wage. Training was four hours, Monday nine hours, and Tuesday nearly 15 hours. (Election Day I had about 15 minutes for lunch, and was able to use the restroom one other time.)

Kae Reed waiting for voters to come through the doors in South Lake Tahoe.

You don’t get to go home just because the polls close at 8pm. Anyone in line at closing hour still gets to vote. Luckily, our line was gone by then. Still, after hours we cleaned up, secured the computers and then sorted the ballots. What I mean by that is we separated the ones to be counted immediately from the provisional ones, and stacked the envelopes by color. We were not counting who voted for which candidate or even paying attention to that. What we were to do was make sure the number of ballots matched the number of signatures.

Before anyone is handed a ballot they must sign a document attesting they are who they are. This is instead of signing an envelope.

What surprised me the most was the number of people who brought their completed ballot with them, but refused to cast it. Instead, they wanted another ballot printed out in order, as they said, to vote in person. Showing up meant they were voting in person, but there was no reasoning with them. We were not there to argue with their logic, or lack of logic as the case seemed to be. People registered for both parties felt this way; most, though, were men over 50.

Multiple people said they were told not to use an envelope. This was weird advice; envelopes have no bearing on a vote being counted. SPOILED was stamped or written in red ink on the ballots they did not want to use. Then they could do with it as they wanted; I suggested it be a cheat sheet, then a souvenir or fire starter.

The few who were fine with voting with their mail in ballot needed to use the envelope it came with or a different colored one provided at the poll centers if they no longer had the original one. Those getting a ballot at the site slid the ballot into the box without an envelope.

All of this paper is one reason this could end up being the most expensive election in California’s history as well as for the 58 individual counties. Same goes for other states. California for the first time mailed a ballot to every voter whether they wanted it or not. Those ballots and the one they received the day they voted were exactly the same. This was a lot of wasted paper, ink and electricity—not to mention time. Plus, with possible record turnout, it means more paper than usual.

Other costs incurred this go-around included cleaning supplies. Every time a person was done voting that station was supposed to be wiped down. Pens were one-time use, with people told to take them with them. We ran out of “I Voted” stickers; much to the disappointment of many people. Tape covered the floor for social distancing, though that was difficult at times even though the number of people allowed in at a time was regulated.

Various signs ready to be placed outside the Lake Tahoe Community College polling center. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

To keep myself safe I wore an R95 mask the entire first day. The second day it lasted for about 11 hours and then I went to a surgical mask/face shield combo. I got a COVID test Nov. 4 just to make sure I was not infected by the coronavirus while working.

Mostly I checked people in via a computer by verifying their name, address and date of birth. For a few, their addresses were updated. This is important because on the East Slope of the county there were more than a dozen ballots because of the various special districts—think fire, utilities, schools, city v. county items.

A ton of people registered on-site on Election Day. They received a provisional ballot in order to allow time to verify they are legally qualified to vote in El Dorado County. People living in another part of the state did not understand why we could not print their ballot. Others thought they could live in another state and vote in California. The ignorance of some people was mind-boggling.

Some thought they had to fill out the entire ballot even if they knew nothing about the candidate or ballot measures. Workers assured them a partially filled out ballot was fine; just fill in the circles you want to, leave the others blank was a common mantra.

Potential future voters at times filled the room in South Lake Tahoe. These youngsters were getting a lesson in civics as they watched their parents mark their ballots. Some parents were there with young adult children who were voting for the first time.

I didn’t see the final tally, but the LTCC vote center was on pace to have the second highest number of votes cast on Election Day in El Dorado County. While the election site says there are 202 precincts, the county had 13 vote centers—two on the South Shore.

As of the morning of Oct. 28 (when I trained for the election gig), about 61,000 ballots had been cast, with the number of registered voters in El Dorado County being135,554. This was about the total number who voted in the March primary, according to election’s staff. As of Nov. 4, the county reported 89,405 ballots had been cast, which is a 65.96 percent voter turnout rate.

Firefighting no longer solely a man’s job in Mexico

Firefighting no longer solely a man’s job in Mexico

While safety has always been of utmost concern for first responders, during this pandemic rushing to the scene of any incident comes with a more cautionary approach to ensure no one’s health is compromised.

Griselda Sotelo, commander of the Volunteer Fire Department of Pescadero, is responsible for the 16 firefighters who work for her. Neither she nor any of the bomberos are paid. Because of the deadly virus their lives are even more at risk each time they respond to a call.

Griselda Sotelo with the Pescadero fire department in Baja California Sur was the first woman to lead a Mexico fire agency. (Image: Pro Paramedicos)

“Things have changed a lot because it is more difficult to help because you always have to be aware of having adequate protection and the utmost care to keep yourself safe, taking care of yourself and others,” Sotelo said of what it’s been like since March.

Being a volunteer agency, as many are in Mexico, it can be difficult to get the necessary equipment to do their job in normal times. The government doesn’t offer much in the way of help. And these are anything but normal times. Pro Paramedicos has stepped in to be a conduit between financial donors who are mostly expats and nine area paramedic teams.

Pablo Ahuja and doctor Xchel Palafox formed the group March 31, the same date the first two COVID-19 deaths were recorded in the state. “Originally the project was formed to gather donations to buy PPE (personal protection equipment) for nine local paramedic teams who had none,” Ahuja said. In addition to Pescadero, the other agencies that are being helped include: Las Pocitas, Bomberos La Paz, Protección Civil de La Paz, Grupo Calafia in La Paz, Bomberos Todos Santos, Protection Civil Los Barriles, Grupo Torres in Los Planes, and Grupo Sierra in El Sargento/La Ventana.

“One of the greatest challenges is keeping PPE available because the prices continually rise and local scarcity of different items interrupts the supply chain,” Ahuja said. “Our greatest accomplishment to date is that not a single one of the 120 plus paramedics we equip with PPE has become COVID positive.”

Pro Paramedicos is a group of volunteers without any paid staff. It has expanded its reach by providing PPE to the three hospitals in La Paz with COVID wards, and to eight community health centers. More than 500,000 pesos ($22,000-plus U.S.) worth of PPEs had been distributed in six months.

While COVID is always a concern, car accidents remain the No. 1 call for the Pescadero firefighters.

The 51-year-old Sotelo is well known in this Baja California Sur community. In 2007, she became Mexico’s first commander of a fire department. Today there only two women with this title in Mexico.

Griselda Sotelo, third from left, with her crew. (Image: Pro Paramedicos)

Sotelo’s route to this job was a bit circuitous.

“When I was a child and was rescued by a firefighter, from there it was always my dream,” she said.

Her family was living in La Paz when Hurricane Liza struck in fall 1976. To date this is the deadliest hurricane to blow through the state. When a dam broke it flooded Sotelo’s neighborhood. She was with her parents and three siblings when their vehicle started to float away in the rising flood waters. That’s when they were rescued and that’s when the then 7-year-old knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Sotelo’s childhood was not easy. Living in a cardboard contraption never is. Despite financial struggles, she was a giver when it came to animals. This trait continues as she works to save the local turtles. She started helping turtles in 2004 at a time when people were still routinely eating turtle eggs. Once Sotelo learned about these wild animals she started educating others. She calls it a passion and that “it is the food of my soul.”

Even though she took her initial first aide course at age 18, her life went in a different direction when she got married at 22. It was in 2001 that she moved to Pescadero where her mom was living. Sotelo was 33, divorced and had three kids.

What she likes to tell people is “it is never too late to pursue your dreams because nothing is unattainable. Seek your mission in life and take advantage of your talents with dedication and effort. There will always be a reward.”

She with others started Patrol 64 Preservation and Rescue in 2007 at her home. The 64 is in reference to the kilometer marker off the highway. It is now known as Bomberos Voluntarios de Pescadero. “We realized the high rate of car accidents in our community. For this reason we decided to enter our training as firefighters by vehicular extraction.” This was after going to the fire academy in La Paz.

There is no normal day for her or her charges. “It depends on the day; there are days in which you have to work from dawn until you go to sleep and others in which it is a very quiet day,” Sotelo said.

Three of her four children, who range in age from 22 to 29, have followed in her footsteps in becoming firefighter/paramedics.

While the donations from Pro Paramedicos are a literal life saver, the volunteer crew in Pescadero needs so much more.

“We currently have an ambulance and a small fire truck operating. When we started we only had an ambulance and a team eager to learn and help,” Sotelo said. She would like the command center to be some place other than her home, a fire truck in better condition, rescue equipment and a basket, another ambulance, and more training for the volunteers.

How to help:

Pandemic underscores need to bridge digital divide

Pandemic underscores need to bridge digital divide

COVID-19 has exacerbated the digital divide. Those who do not have internet and the devices to use it are falling even further behind.

While so much of the news has been about how those in K-12 are struggling with virtual education, the reality is it’s also impacting students in higher education, job seekers, and employees.

The Washington Post last month hosted a webinar about the digital divide. Two of the main speakers were Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. They agreed a bipartisan solution needs to be found to deal with the issue. It will also take the public and private sectors to work on this together.

“A lot of this is an affordability issue, not just infrastructure,” Shalala said.

Even when high speed internet is available, it doesn’t mean a person can afford a phone, tablet or computer to use it on. If they have a device, then the issue of paying for the internet connection comes into play. This is why some districts have set up hot spots at the campus and on school buses. That only works if a student takes the bus or has time to hang out after school to do homework or someone to drive them to school that night to tap into the internet.

“The educational divide is widening. Education is the foundation to having a better life,” Rodgers said.

Investments have been made so schools, libraries and hospitals have internet, but it’s not the same as having it at home.

“There are regions I know of in my district where laying fiber is cost prohibitive so we need other technology like television,” Rodgers said. She spoke about Microsoft working with the FCC on a pilot project to use the white space on televisions for internet connectivity.

For some who can afford the internet and have multiple devices, they are learning they don’t have enough bandwidth to service everyone in the residence working and going to school. Rodgers acknowledged with three kids at home doing remote learning, that her internet connection has been strained.

Access to the internet is an issue for rural areas as well as for people living in urban areas. The problem strikes poor areas the hardest. While a particular job may not require the internet, applying for it probably does. Most services are online as well, from unemployment, to government help, to telemedicine.

A study released last fall in the Journal of Applied Philosophy said free internet should be a basic human right. According to the World Wide Web Foundation, “Internet access is affordable if 1 gigabyte of data costs no more than 2 percent of average monthly income; currently some 2.3 billion people are without affordable internet access.”

The late John Lewis called the internet the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

Mexico helping with ongoing toilet paper shortage in U.S.

Mexico helping with ongoing toilet paper shortage in U.S.

Don’t squeeze the Regio! The what? Regio. It’s one of several brands of Mexican toilet paper that have been showing up on shelves at U.S. retailers.

Mexican brands of toilet paper are on some stores shelves in the U.S. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

When the pandemic first hit in the spring stores in the U.S. could not keep toilet paper in stock. Sales were up more than 100 percent in March compared to 2019. While the supply has improved, manufacturers in the United States are still struggling to keep up with demand. This left retailers scrambling to satisfy customers’ basic needs—something to wipe with.

Mexico toilet paper companies have come to the rescue. Regio, Hoteles Elite, Daisy Soft, Petalo, and Vogue have been seen at stores throughout the U.S. It’s not just Mexico helping out. TP companies in Canada and Trinidad and Tobago have also sent product to the States.

According to Statista, people in the United States use the most toilet compared to other countries. “On average, an American can be expected to get through 141 rolls of the stuff per year, equating to roughly 12.7 kilograms.”

Once U.S. brands can catch up, expect the international products to disappear.

Ballot in the mail; vote for Ballard, Creegan and no on Measure S

Ballot in the mail; vote for Ballard, Creegan and no on Measure S

Voting by mail is safe and easy. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s done. I’ve voted. Now the waiting game begins.

I doubt the outcome of the presidential election will be known Nov. 3 after the polls close. All the mail in ballots will delay that process.

I would guess most local elections will be known that night. In South Lake Tahoe two City Council seats are up, along with two for the water-sewer district, and a measure that would increase the local sales tax to be the highest in the region.

I voted no on Measure S. It would increase the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.75 percent. The city is being so disingenuous with voters in saying the money will go to fire protection. The truth is the money can go wherever the city wants it to go. With two new councilmembers coming on board after the election because the incumbents are not running, there is no guarantee the newbies will choose to allocate the new revenue (estimated by the city to be $5.4 million annually) toward public safety. The city manager has been on board since May, so he has no track record with constituents. There would be no sunset on this additional 1 cent tax. The city would have to put a measure on a future ballot asking voters to rescind the tax hike for it to go away.

The city has been crying poor for years. What has it been doing to prepare for the reduction in transient occupancy tax because of the voter initiated changes in vacation home rentals? Why weren’t there furloughs during the onslaught of COVID-19 when recreation facilities, the campground and other services were not offered, or when the snow stopped flying and there was nothing to remove from the streets? Where is the accountability of the spending of the excess reserves?

Don’t ask me or anyone else to pay more when you haven’t done your job or sacrificed.

As for the council candidates, I voted for Stacey Ballard and Cristi Creegan. While I don’t know either of them well, I know enough that the reasons they are running are honest, with no hidden agendas. I doubt I could ever find a candidate I agree with 100 percent. For instance, Creegan is for Measure S. Still, both women are honest, hardworking people who will have the best interest of the city at heart when they make a decision. I also believe both will be able to work well with the three remaining council members in order to have a cohesive government body.

As for the South Tahoe Public Utility District board, I voted for David Peterson for the full term and wrote in a friend who once wanted to be on this board. For the unexpired term, Shane Romsos got my vote.

It’s time for Brynne Kennedy to be our voice in the House of Representatives.

When it came to the state initiatives I looked at the endorsements of publications I respect. I added those thoughts to my research to come up with my own selections.

For those wondering if their ballot made it to the appropriate elections department in California, go here to register for updates. Nevada voters may do the same by registering online here. Remember, voting by mail is not dangerous or full of perils like fraud. I’ve been doing this so long I can’t remember when I last voted in person.

U.S.-Mexico border issues rooted in corruption

U.S.-Mexico border issues rooted in corruption

The wall between the United States and Mexico is not keeping everyone out. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While migrant caravans have slowed during the pandemic, the pilgrimages have not ended. People still want to flee their countries for the United States, with traversing through Mexico being a large part of their journey.

On Sept. 30, the documentary “Blood on the Wall” was released on the National Geographic Channel. Five days before its debut, award-winning directors Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested spoke with Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post live online. The filmmakers’ goals were to explore how corruption, the drug trade, and misguided policies have contributed to the current migration crisis in Mexico.

“If you can’t deal with corruption and the rule of law, you won’t make any sizable or meaningful changes,” Quested said. The corruption is on both sides of the border.

Junger called Mexico one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Soldiers are working for the drug cartels. The drug cartels are also in the business of human trafficking. Migrants sometimes have no choice but to be mules for the cartels in order to secure a guided trip through the desert into the United States.

Guns are coming to Mexico via the United States; then used by the cartels. Gun laws are not being enforced on either side of the border.

The directors employed mostly Mexicans for the film crew, with the theory they would be better at telling their story. The shoot was broken into three sections—the caravan, Acapulco, and the cartels.

Junger and Quested gave some of the migrants cell phones to use as cameras. This, they believed, would be less intrusive than a big camera, and would get people to act more natural. One woman shot footage of herself as she did drugs, and begged for food and money.

“In showing the reality of migrants and narcos we wanted to show they are people like you and me,” Junger said.

He said it’s impossible to separate narcotics, migration and politics, while also pointing out it is necessary to understand how the United States has supported various Central American regimes.

“That legacy of the last 40 years of interference has led to the issue of mass migration today,” Junger said.

In the film a person says, “Just because we are migrants doesn’t mean we are bad people.” This is a statement so many in the United States can’t come to grips with. It takes a willingness to be educated about the issue, to want to understand why people are leaving their homes in search of a better way of life. It’s not about wanting to freeload in the United States. After all, many immigrants end up paying more than $750 a year in income taxes.

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