We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, the Kardashians actually do a lot of good in this world. Yes, they’re reality stars who have perfected the selfie, the contour, and the vocal fry, but, they’re also women who are seriously dedicated to philanthropy. This “silent” reality, as Kris Jenner once referred to her famous family’s charitable habit, showed up once again in Keeping Up With The Kardashians Land in Sunday night’s “Close To Home.” When the TV clan wasn’t swimming in a pool of sprinkles at the Ice Cream Museum or giving a professional scribe enough bizarre stories for a full tell-all memoir, they were actually trying to get to the bottom of Los Angeles’ very real homelessness epidemic. Yes, Kim Kardashian & Ko. actually tried to solve homelessness and brought up some very important, little spoken-about facts in the process.
One of the most important points of season 14's “Close To Home” are the specific dangers homeless women face on the streets. During a trip to Union Rescue Mission shelter in Downtown L.A.’s Skid Row, Kim and Khloé Kardashian take in an aerial view of the tent encampments overtaking the neighborhood. Kim wonders if Rescue Mission has enough space to take care of the skyrocketing need, since there are about 47,000 people “on the streets” in the city, but only 12,000 shelter beds total.
“We never turn away a woman,” Rescue Mission CEO Andy Bales explains, leading to the most jarring, haunting reality check. “Because there are over 800 registered sex offenders on the streets … You cannot survive on the street without being brutalized and devastated by the experience.” Not only is that awful, but, when you take into consideration how few survivors actually report sexual assault and rape — and how few predators are convicted — the picture of being an at-risk homeless woman becomes even bleaker. It's more than likely there are far more than 800 predators walking among these women. “They are so vulnerable when they’re on the street to rapists and pedophiles and drug trafficking. This can happen to anyone,” a thoughtful Kim explains in a talking head interview. These are real women in real danger.
Despite this disturbing fact, KUWTK seems to know certain fans hearts’ might not be melted by this revelation alone. So, it takes great pains to turn a dehumanized monolith like “general homelessness” into an honest story even the most “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”-obsessed viewer can empathize with. Essentially, KUWTK gives homelessness a face.
The first big way the E! reality show accomplishes this gargantuan task is by speaking to a circle of women at Rescue Mission. Before getting to the support group, the Kardashians sisters walk the facility, and employee Alexandra Monsibaez points out there are separate floors for mothers and children because they “want to make sure [their] women feel safe.” Again, we’re reminded just how unsafe society usually allows these women to remain.
This truth comes even more into focus when Kim and Khloé speak to the denizens of Mission Rescue. One woman, named Laquita, breaks the stereotypes of homelessness — like only substance abuse, mental illness, or abuse can lead to it — immediately, revealing she was simply a single mom whose job didn’t pay well enough. “Sometimes you just need a place to take take a breath and move on,” she explains. Other women share similar stories, explaining they can’t afford their rent, have hit relatable financial hardship, or merely never had that strong societal safety net so many people take for granted. One woman, named LaTanya, says she could stay with her brother, but he smokes drugs. So, instead of remaining in that unhealthy environment, she’s actively avoiding it.
During an end-of-episode visit to transitional shelter Alexandria House, Kim hears even more contextualizing stories during an event she planned to support the charitable organization. One woman named Madisen reveals she’s more than the domestic violence of her past — she’s also a former star athlete. Another, named Siti, confirms she’s “happy” despite homelessness thanks to the support of Alexandria House. While these stories are shared throughout “Close To Home,” both Kim and Khloé stress the importance of education on the topic, which makes sense, since as they learn more, their massive audience does as well.
While “Close To Home” was mostly dedicated to getting to the bottom of the Kardashians’ questions, they also made an important decision: they educated about the homeless on a person-to-person street level. It’s all well and good to see Kim interacting with organization-approved women with on-narrative stories, but it’s far more affecting to see the millionaire walking an actual Burbank tent camp with local councilwoman Nury Martinez, a vocal homelessness advocate.
During this segment, the focus isn’t on Kim’s inquiries — it’s about informing actual in-need people there are resources for them out there; resources, as one homeless man admits, no one has told him about in years. In fact, during Kim’s journey with Martinez, the reality star barely says a word. Instead, it’s her job to listen, learn, and point a camera at an epidemic very few other people are talking about. Although the experience is heavily controlled, with a handful of police officers monitoring the situation for safety, it’s still a moving, real-life example of the issue the episode is dealing with. It's impossible to ignore actual humans are living among free-wheeling refuse and broken glass.
It’s easy to claim the Kardashians, with their Instagram dominance and makeup lines, are a frivolous piece of pop culture confection. But, episodes like “Close To Home” prove the famous family is a lot more than that. And, we shouldn’t expect KUWTK to stop tackling difficult topics anytime soon, as a preview for next week’s episode teases the Kardashians will be taking on the complex topic of gun control.
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