This afternoon I finished the Netflix documentary series called Crime Scene The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel and this series is as much about mental illness and poverty as it is the disappearance of Elisa Lam and the sordid history of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. The documentary shows some really graphic footage of the Skid Row section of downtown Los Angeles. The shocking poverty and destitution of this 59 block area stands in sharp contrast to the excesses of LA at large. Skid Row is known for its mentally ill homeless population and Elisa Lam suffered from Bipolar Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Elisa Lam’s tragic story of depression and suicide is told against the backdrop of Skid Row and the Cecil Hotel. The Cecil Hotel has a history of being a last stop for many people suffering from mental illness and unable to live anywhere else; literally being the last stop before living in a pup tent on the mean streets of downtown Los Angeles. Lam, just as many people in America, had fallen victim to their own mental illness due to a lack of support services or even anybody caring at all. The hotel even turned a blind eye to the warning signs, instead more concerned about running a business than the well being of a human being.
The documentary shows just how brutal life in America can be if you have mental illness, have no support system, and thus fall through the gaping cracks in a means-tested system. California and America’s answer to the mentally ill and homeless was out of sight and out of mind. In the case of LA, an area was carved out for them to exist, an area that is more dangerous than many so-called third world nations. The photography depicts the people living in these conditions as essentially human refuse; maybe more apt to say sub-human.
Elisa Lam, the residents of the Cecil Hotel, and the poor scratching out an existence on Skid Row deserve better than being treated as discarded lives. The cost to a society that discards human beings is a lot more than the cost of simply giving them food, clothing, shelter, and care. America wants to call itself a God-fearing loving nation. America wants to call itself great but how can it be great when there is so much suffering among so much excess. A nation cannot be great when so many people suffer and the logical disconnect is glaring. This documentary not only told the story of Elisa Lam but told the story of two Americas: one for the rich and famous and one for the suffering.