Brett Ratner on His Homeless Father, L.A. State of Emergency: "You're Ashamed of Who You Are"

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The blockbuster filmmaker says he encouraged Jackie Chan to donate $100,000 to the cause.

Brett Ratner, director of blockbusters like the Rush Hour series and X-Men: The Last Stand, has a personal stake in the issue of homelessness in Los Angeles. His father, Ronald Ratner, died homeless and alone, the result of years of drug abuse. Ratner now serves on the board of Chrysalis, a non-profit with centers in downtown L.A., Pacoima and Santa Monica that helps homeless people get off the streets and back into the workforce. Since its founding in 1984, the service has helped over 50,000 people get back on their feet. Ratner, 46, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter for a feature on the city's growing homelessness crisis — a problem so bad, it has led Mayor Eric Garcetti to declare a state of emergency.

Why are the homeless multiplying at such an alarming rate?

I think most of it is based on the lack of affordable housing, plus obviously job loss and economic inequality and a lot of poor decisions that result in prison sentences for people. Drug addiction, mental health challenges and mostly ineffective public policy contribute to the problem as well. A large population doesn’t have access to affordable housing and that’s the biggest problem right now. That housing barrier creates a huge obstacle in a person’s ability to find and retain a job.

Is Hollywood becoming more sensitive to the issue?

I think so. I urge people. I’ve taken a lot of people, including Jackie Chan, to downtown L.A. Jackie contributed $100,000 to Chrysalis.

What can be done?

Chrysalis gets the homeless workplace training and I think that’s why it’s been so successful. I don't think there's one solution to the problem. There’s not one type of stereotypical homeless individual. Each person has their own issue. It’s a labor-intensive problem that I really believe requires active outreach, a lot of case management and coordination of social services like mental health treatment. There’s also a lot of drug addiction. But for those that are ready and willing to work, a job and a paycheck gives them so much pride and dignity. That’s what Chrysalis focuses on. They teach them how to write resumes, they give them email accounts, they have access to computers, they give them a phone number. Without a phone number, you can’t get a job right? They may not have a house, but they have a phone number.

Some of these people, by the way —  no one would look at them for years, no one would talk to them. Imagine how they felt. No one would make eye contact with them, no one would say "hi" to them. They were alienated from their family members. And then they get the courage to go in this place, sit there, get an email account, fill out a resume, do a mock job interview — even if it's for McDonald's. 

What have you observed what that does for them?

When you’re homeless, you’re ashamed. You're ashamed of who you are, what you’ve become, your situation in life. Then to get a job, the best thing that comes out of that is they reunite with their families. My dad became homeless because of drug addiction. He was never around me because he was ashamed of coming around me without having a job or a house to live in, so he stayed away. So imagine if he had been introduced to Chrysalis. It would have changed his life and my life as well. Not because you give them the money, but because you give them their self-esteem back and their dignity and their pride and they’re able to reconnect with their loved ones and get back in to society.

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