Snapshot — homelessness on your screens

Despite my best attempts to break it up with a handful of mediocre photographs, the posts to date have been pretty heavy on text.  No doubt to my readers’ relief, I’ve come across a selection of excellent non-written additions to the homelessness and justice advocacy spaces in the last few weeks.

Here’s a snapshot.

Sugar – ‘Life on the street isn’t exciting … Life on the streets is mundane, and lonely’

Into the mix of an indie film with a young, talented cast, a great soundtrack and a Venice Beach backdrop, writer and director Rotimi Rainwater puts the more unexpected ingredient of youth homelessness. A tricky thing to pull off, but the raw authenticity of the film is undeniably assisted by Rotimi’s own experience of teen homelessness:

[I] hope to give people a realistic view of what it’s like on the streets, to humanize the youth who’ve ended up homeless; because no child on the streets is there by choice. No 13-year old watching Disney with his or her parents wakes up one day and decides to leave home and go eat out of a garbage can.

I had the privilege of attending the Washington DC premier of Sugar last week.

A glimpse of Sugar

A glimpse of Sugar

Sugar director, Rotimi Rainwater, with supporters of the film's premier National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Coalition for the Homeless, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, National Network for Youth and Sasha Bruce Youthwork

Sugar director, Rotimi Rainwater, with supporters of the film’s premier National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Coalition for the Homeless, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, National Network for Youth and Sasha Bruce Youthwork

In my view, admittedly as someone who hasn’t been a teenager for a dozen years, the film has potential to appeal to a mainstream, outside-the-homelessness-sector audience.  In doing this, it has a role to play in building awareness of youth homelessness: ‘a worldwide issue that isn’t going away’.

I’m not sure if Sugar will be making its way to Australian shores, but if it does, I encourage you to check it out.

You can also visit the Sugar campaign page for more information about youth homelessness and the ‘filmanthropy’ goals of the film (a donation of $25 gets you digital copy of the film, an MP3 of the aforementioned music, social media glory and, most importantly, a stake in providing meals to homeless kids).

What’s your safety net?

When I visited the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, co-founder and Executive Director, Patty Fugere, told me about the safety net training the Clinic runs.  The straightforward, powerful exercise steps people through a series of questions to work out what their personal safety net is.

How strong is your safety net?

How strong is your safety net?

Horizontal strings in the net represent factors that you have little or no control over, including whether you grew up knowing both parents, any physical illnesses, whether you’ve experienced abuse and whether or not you’ve ever been discriminated against on the basis of your race, gender or ethnicity.  Vertical strings represent factors that you have some control over, but which are ‘rooted in what horizontal threads we have’.  These include whether you have a college degree, a job, access to a car, a good credit record, substance use problems or involvement with the justice system.

My own safety net looks pretty robust, like it could catch me if things went off track.  But step through the net of a 20 year-old single mother of two children with health problems who’s been the victim of family violence and whose mother passed away when she was two — her safety net is threadbare. Her situation is perpetually fragile and there’s no room for anything to go wrong.

To bring this within the realm of screen-based material as promised, I direct you to the more hi-tech version of this exercise www.playspent.org.  It’s a confronting choose-your-own-adventure that prompts you to navigate your way through poverty; only for millions it’s not a game.

These kinds of tools go some way to gradually building community understanding of how little people on very low incomes have to survive on, the kinds of decisions they have to make about how to spend their extremely limited money and the debilitating consequences of not being able to stretch your income far enough.  Ultimately, they help people understand how people can end up homeless through no fault of their own.

Talking Transition and #WhereIAmGoing

My fortuitous timing continued with my arrival to NYC during the inaugural Talking Transition event.  When Bill de Blasio takes office on 1 January 2014, he will be NYC’s first new mayor in 12 years and  Talking Transition: an open conversation about NYC’s future ‘is asking New Yorkers what they think the new mayor needs to do to make NYC a great place for all’.  The organisers are ‘transforming the typically closed-door transition process between Election Day and the Inauguration into an opportunity for New Yorkers to make their voices heard’.

One of the big issues on the NYC community’s radar is stop and frisk practices, which have been highly controversial since their significant increase when Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002 — they peaked at 685,000 stops in 2011.

Talking Transition - constructive conversations about public safety and policing in NYC

Talking Transition – constructive conversations about public safety and policing in NYC

#WhereIAmGoing - film about stop and frisk from a high school student's perspective

#WhereIAmGoing – film about stop and frisk from a high school student’s perspective

The practice has been the subject of litigation, including a recent finding by a federal judge that the stops disproportionately impact on minorities and are unconstitutional.

The proceedings are ongoing and I will consider them in further detail in later posts.  For now, I wanted to share with you these short films released by Communities United for Police Reform that provide an insight into stop and frisk practices and their impact from three different perspectives: a young person; a pastor; and a police officer.

Enough text from me.  Sit back and check them out.

While you’re in the multimedia zone, if you haven’t already, have a look at Homeless Law’s short films, audio recordings and photographs that capture the personal accounts of six people who’ve experienced homelessness and been hit with fines for things like begging, drinking in public or not having a ticket on public transport: In the Public Eye – personal stories of homelessness and fines

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One comment

  1. Fantastic post Lucy – I hope the serendipitous timing continues!

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