On April 13, PBS will air the broadcast premiere of "The Homestretch," an insightful and moving documentary that examines the issue of youth homelessness. Back in February, the Alliance screened the film at our 2015 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in San Diego. In support of next week's broadcast premiere, we're posting this letter from the filmmakers, Anne de Mare, Director/Producer & Kirsten Kelly Director/Producer. You can watch the film's trailer above and find local listings for the film here.
Five years ago, a young high school student that Kirsten was working with on a theater project revealed to her that he was homeless and completely on his own. It was one of those moments in life when everything just stopped — how could this be? This kid was bright, talented, funny, and ambitious. He was going to school, attending rehearsals, and seemed so normal. But each night he didn’t know where he was going to go. He was working hard to make something happen for himself while being alone in an impossible situation, and he was going to great lengths to hide his circumstances. For us, he put a completely unexpected face on homeless youth. And when we discovered that — at that time in 2009 — there were almost fifteen thousand kids registered as homeless in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system, we knew we had to make this film. This was a crisis and nobody seemed to be talking about it.
We started digging into statistics, talking to teachers and principals, and spending time with lots and lots of kids who were experiencing homelessness. We spent time with them at school, riding the trains and buses, in open-door emergency youth shelters, and innovative transitional homes. So many of the kids we encountered along the way were fierce survivors, escaping the horrors of violence, drug addiction, broken family structures, poverty, and crime. Often, they were thrown out of the house because of sexual orientation, were abandoned by parents who were unable emotionally or financially to care for them, or chose to leave because of physical or sexual abuse. Each one of the many kids we spent time with is part of this film — their experiences, stories, insight, struggles, and humor are woven deeply into the fabric of The Homestretch. But when we found Kasey, Anthony, and Roque, we were blown away by their powerful journeys and knew we had found the center of our film. And they, we soon learned, were eager for the chance to be heard, to let others who are dealing with the incredible obstacles of homelessness know that they aren’t alone.
It is our hope that, through the deeply personal journeys of Kasey, Anthony, and Roque, The Homestretch can shine a much-needed light on one of the most hidden and exploited populations in America — unaccompanied homeless youth.
Through making this film, we discovered that the number-one reason why there is not more support given to these youth in crisis is the pervasive negative stereotype that the words “homeless youth” conjure up — that image of the troubled runaway or drug-addicted kid sleeping under the bridge. An image that puts immediate blame on the young person. In reality, this image is a very small part of the story. We were meeting kids who were on a very different path, and who painted a very different picture of what youth homelessness means. We also discovered how the “Homeless to Harvard” story that is so often celebrated can be equally harmful and negatively affects the vast majority of homeless youth with unreasonable expectations. The majority of kids we were meeting were in between these two extremes. We wanted to bring their stories front and center and erase these harmful images, replacing them with something different — something that shows the hard work, resiliency, mad survival skills, smarts, dedication, and struggles the majority of everyday youth face when they try to build a future while being homeless and on their own.
We hope you will walk away from The Homestretch with a deeper understanding of youth who are experiencing homelessness, and how we, as a society, can help support them better in their search for a future. We saw how all the kids we met fought hard against harmful stereotypes of homelessness, and as we listened and spent time in their worlds, we saw the surprising ways that they created temporary homes and fly-by-night communities, and reached out for support. We were inspired by their search for relationships and deep drive to build a future. And we sought to make an inspiring film about this devastating crisis.