One filmmaker walked 400 miles to show just how ridiculous L.A.'s water problem really is.

Filmmaker Samantha Bode was camping in Northern California when she noticed something strange.

A group of industrial utility vehicles bearing the markings of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power were parked near Mono Lake — despite the fact that they were some 350 miles from the city of Los Angeles itself.

As a recent L.A. transplant herself, Samantha couldn’t sate her curiosity. “It was disorienting,” she wrote in a blog post. “I thought to myself, ‘Did I somehow get back to Los Angeles? No. That was definitely an LADWP truck in Lee Vining, California — a six-hour drive north of Los Angeles.’”


Samantha Bode. All photos by Samantha Bode/"The Longest Straw." Used with permission.

She began to ask around, and that's when she learned about the Los Angeles Aqueduct — the 338-mile-long pipeline that imports the city's water from Northern California.

“I was amazed and appalled to learn that Los Angeles could only be a bustling metropolis because of an extensive network of imported water,” she told Upworthy over email. “I was even more amazed and appalled by how few Angelenos seemed to know about the origins of the water that goes to quench their thirst, cleanse their bodies, and, ultimately, create our city into the habitable place that we now benefit from.”

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Samantha had always felt a strong connection to the land. There was comfort in knowing the water that gave life to everything came right from the well in her backyard.

It makes sense, then, that LA’s aquatic instability might cause her even more concern.

“Every time I saw a sprinkler out of whack, a car being washed, a driveway being hosed, I would think of the small towns I passed by on my way back from Mono Lake," Samantha wrote on her blog.

As poor cities like Flint, Michigan, suffer through water crises that threaten health and hygiene, most Angelenos remain blissfully unaware of their own tenuous situation — and money might not save them from that very same fate. It's startling to think that a major American city like Los Angeles could be so unsustainable that its very lifeblood would have to be imported in order for it to thrive.

Photo by Samantha Bode/"The Longest Straw." Used with permission.

So in summer 2015, Samantha packed her camping gear and camera and hit the trails to document the 400-mile journey from Los Angeles to Mono Lake, where L.A. gets more than one-third of its water.

Samantha’s two-month journey took her across the Mojave Desert, through underground tunnels, and over sheer cliffs — all to spread the word of L.A.’s increasingly bleak water crisis.

“If you ever need to gain a deep appreciation for water, hike through the Mojave Desert in 100 degree heat,” Samantha said in a press release. She expanded on this for Upworthy: “We would start hiking at 5 AM and stop at 11 AM, when we would build a shade shelter by stringing up a tarp to available plants. We would hunker down there, staring at lizards or each other, playing cards as the tarp whipped against our heads in the wind. At 4 PM, we would hike for a few more hours until sunset, counting every sip of water we took along the way."

With help from her friend and film producer Angela Jorgensen, she stashed five-gallon caches of water at convenient(ish) spots along the trail just to keep herself alive. “At every water cache, I would say a little prayer that no thirsty animal or gun crazed target shooter would ruin our cache. This is TMI, but I usually only peed once a day.”

Over the course of her 65-day hike, Samantha spoke with people connected to the water and land, and she's turning their collective stories into the full-length documentary film “The Longest Straw.”

Samantha and the rest of her production team plan to use their film to raise awareness about L.A.’s real water problems — and to empower the government and environmental groups to find alternative local water sources. This includes extensive stormwater capture systems, better wastewater treatment, and free or discounted “gray water” installations, to encourage residents to repurpose their lightly used bath, hand washing, or dish water.

The finished film will also be shown at film festivals in the Los Angeles area, and the production team plans to do some educational outreach at local elementary schools as well.

“I hope that by viewing 'The Longest Straw,' people will come away with a greater sense of unity with the people of the Owens Valley and Mono Basin, and therefore a greater sense of responsibility for that water as a shared resource,” Samantha said. “If the people of Los Angeles, the Owens Valley, and the Mono Basin all stand together with a unified voice, we have a better chance at ensuring the future sustainability of Owens Valley and Mono Basin water for all.”

Whether or not you live in Los Angeles, "The Longest Straw" website has lots of excellent resources for making your water consumption more sustainable — though you might be shocked to find just how much water it takes to make all your favorite things. There are also links to support the film and its educational outreach.

Here’s the first official trailer for the upcoming documentary:
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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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