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Spokane Filmmaker Puts Personal Face On Homelessness

Screenshot from Rising River Media

For several years, documentary filmmaker Maurice Smith has been working on “My Road Leads Home," a series of films that highlight different aspects of Spokane’s problem with homelessness. Now he’s focusing his lens on individual people, to let the viewer get to know some of the folks who are living difficult lives on the city’s streets.

Smith is the executive director of Rising River Media in Spokane. You can see his documentaries at

Maurice Smith: “For the past two years since I’ve been doing documentaries, one of my goals has been to humanize and personalize the issue of homelessness. These aren’t just homeless people, they’re people with names. They’re people with stories. They’re people with lives, lives they’ve lost, lives they’re trying to get back. And so I’ve kind of pulled the trigger on a project that I call ‘Everybody Has A Story.’ The goal of this project, insider documentary work, is to record the stories of people experiencing homelessness in their own words. I ask them to tell me, ‘What’s your journey into homelessness? Tell me about it.’ The first one that we published and made available to the public is with a gal by the name of Brooke Dombrowik. I met Brooke earlier this year at the Cannon Street Warming Center when Jewel’s Helping Hands was running it.”

Brooke Dombrowik: “I became homeless in 2007. I was pregnant with one of my oldest sons. At the time I resided with my mother. We shared my grandparents’ house, who had both passed away. My mom put me out. We were both, were all doing drugs. I was pregnant, like I say, with one of my oldest sons. She threw me out the day before Thanksgiving, 2007 and I’ve been homeless off and on ever since. I’ve had a place three different times throughout the course of, since 2007. That’s how it started.”

Maurice Smith: “The reality is I’ve spent two years just by being there. I go to homeless outreaches. I’ll be at Blessings Under The Bridge sometimes. I go out with outreach teams and I meet them where they are. Sometimes that’s at Glover Field or is down in Peoples’ Park, people camping by the river. I’ve done this for two years now. I’m doing more of it. So I’ve slowly become a familiar face and they have started seeing what we do. They’ve seen the product. They can go on our website. They have phones and sometimes computer access. Word begins to spread. They are not a trusting group and that’s because they have been let down, disappointed by everyone they have ever trusted, from their perspective. As a result, they are very slow to open up. It’s like, ‘Are you going to be the next person to let me down? I don’t trust you.’ And that was kind of the way Brooke looked at me when I first asked her for an interview. It was like, “Ah, I’m not sure.’”

Credit Screenshot from Rising River Media
Cynthia Sarvis also sat for an interview with Maurice Smith.

Maurice Smith: “I’ll be releasing another story on Monday, a gal by the name of Cynthia. I interviewed her the day after I interviewed Brooke.”

In the video, Maurice Smith says: “So tell me what started your journey into homelessness.”

Cynthia Sarvis: “I was over in Wenatchee and I had an RV and I couldn’t pay for the licensing to it so the cops over there towed it away because it was illegally on the road because I couldn’t afford the tabs for it because I’m waiting to get my Social Security so I have no income at all. So I just didn’t have any money to go rent a place, you know? I couldn’t hold a job.”

Maurice Smith: “That’s how we change the optic and the understanding of homelessness. Homelessness is no longer this big amorphous mass of homeless people. It’s people who look like your mother or grandmother, people who look like your daughter, people who look like your son, and they have a story to tell. We want them to tell their story so we can better understand what they need to get off of this journey that we call homelessness.”