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The Real Motel Kids of Orange County

Ah, Orange County. Land of so-bad-it's-good televised opportunities, exemplified by shows like The O.C., Laguna Beach, Newport Harbor and Real Housewives of Orange County, where the average household income consists of too many digits for the shows' stars to add up (without the help of a calculator-toting assistant). What those shows fail to acknowledge is the existence of lower-class families in their neighborhoods, living paycheck-to-paycheck to reside in a single filthy motel room they can barely afford, which is the focus of Alexandra Pelosi's new documentary series on HBO, Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County.

The documentary follows the children of several different families as they reveal a glimpse at what living in a sleazy motel room entails: the presence of bedbugs and lice, increased arguments and lack of privacy, witnessing crime in the parking lots that act as their playgrounds, and drug deals by gang members. Not such an ideal childhood? Well despite these debilitating conditions, the children still try to stay relatively optimistic and make the most out of what little they have. As one of the little girls responds, "God knows what He's doing. He only gives you what you really need... not the things you wish for."

Contrasted with the daily struggles of these children, the excessive lifestyles of O.C. residents that have been portrayed on scripted and unscripted shows makes you despise those privileged teens and housewives even more, if that's possible. While the MTV and Bravo reality stars can't seem to decide between the Galliano gown or the Versace mini dress, 10-year-old Celine sifts through her entire wardrobe that fits in a small storage container, saying, "sometimes I have a hard time looking for the clothes I wanna wear." Most reality stars have goals to launch a clothing or cosmetics line, score admission to the hottest clubs, or manage to squeeze more money they don't deserve out of the networks they have contracts with. Whereas the motel kids of Orange Country have wishes "to re-do life," "for a house" to live in, and, as 7-year-old Gabriel admits, "to have a mansion and a thousand dollars and every single gun in the whole wide world."

Irony doesn't even begin to describe the fact that they live a few blocks from the self-proclaimed "happiest place on earth," Disneyland. At best, a few of the kids can lay on the parking lot that faces the amusement park to watch the fireworks at night. But their entertainment usually is limited to whatever borrowed memories they find in the dumpster after the belongings from an evicted family are thrown out, playing in the motel parking lot at night while cop cars pull up to respond to a domestic disturbance, and climbing the stairwells or dancing in the hallways until they get yelled at by "the wicked witch" to keep it down. As 9-year-old Dylan says, "We're just trying to have fun, we're just kids." Instead of showing off their collections of Silly Bandz as most kids their age would, 11-year-old friends Brenda and Meygan compare the rashes on their wrists from bedbugs.

The one beacon of hope in their otherwise dismal lives is provided by Project Hope, a school that offers free education, learning materials, transportation and lunches to homeless kids in the area. The only time you see the motel children genuinely happy is when Project Hope brings them on a field trip to the beach. Probably the same beach where Kristin and Stephen shared a sushi picnic at the end of Laguna Beach's first season. Oh, pretentious high school memories... While Laguna Beach led Kristin and Stephen to land spots on other inaccurate portrayals of average young adult life (The Hills, One Tree Hill), a couple of the motel kids bluntly answer what they have to look forward to: "nothing." Here's a thought, already-rich O.C. reality stars -- instead of investing money into your half-assed, likely-to-fail business ventures (inspired by the fact that you're "famous" enough to be featured in Life & Style magazine), lend a helping hand to your less fortunate neighbors.

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