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The Homestretch: Why you should watch a movie about homeless kids

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It’s not easy for us to think about homeless kids, so many of us don’t. But we should. The Homestretch, a new documentary you can watch on PBS Detroit Monday, April 13th at 10pm or online, is an easy way into this topic.

The Homestretch will shatter your expectations about being young and homeless. It follows three homeless teens in Chicago that you can’t help but root for even though they’re not typical poster children: Roque, Anthony, and Kasey.

Roque is an introvert kid trying to make it through high school and into college. Homelessness isn’t the only barrier he’s facing; Roque is also undocumented. He lives with his teacher Mrs. Rivera, who I wish was my teacher/mom/advocate.  

Rivera lovingly pushes Roque and teaches him how to advocate for himself.  Rivera says that when Roque’s biological parents heard he needed a place to stay and didn’t offer him a room, it was “heartbreaking.” These kids often have no foothold, no ground beneath them. His is such a clear example of how for kids, homelessness is a crisis of relationships.

Even if other people don’t see it, these kids have a sense of who they are. This is especially true for audacious Kasey, who says she became homeless “because of the way she is.” Kasey identifies as a lesbian. “I’d rather sleep outside than stay with my family because they’re breaking me down so bad,” she explains. She’s really no-nonsense, but she’s also really funny. In the screening where I saw this film, everyone appreciated the humor.

Then there’s Anthony. Anthony went through foster care and experienced multiple forms of abuse. He’s been homeless since age 14.  Now, he has a record and a young son and he’s trying to get custody. He explains, “I had so many big dreams, so many things I wanted to accomplish… but it’s hard because you lose faith and you lose hope.”

Pat Scott appears in the film to offer the service provider view. She’s the homeless liaison at Prosser Career Academy High School and strives to give homeless students stability in the film. “Each name represents a story and it represents a person who is going to be awesome someday,” she says tearfully. Her position isn’t paid; it’s a role someone takes on in addition to their job. Scott says sometimes she’ll be getting in her car and sees one of her kids walking in the snow and thinks, “where are they going?”

Scott is trying to support these kids and lots of other homeless kids, but because their lives are so chaotic it’s hard for them to establish long term connections with people. Another place featured in the film, The Crib, is interesting because people there are honest about their inability to meet these kids’ underlying, long-term needs.

Far too often, people “expect [homeless shelters] to give a young person a sandwich and immediately they are going to live independently in their own apartment and get a job and complete college and enroll in therapy and never smoke pot again,” says The Crib worker Jake Bradley. “For the most part, those things don’t immediately stem from the delivery of a sandwich to a person.”

When it opened in 2011, it was the first shelter of its kind in the Midwest. It’s a temporary shelter. There’s food, a place to shower, and the chance for kids to do their laundry. Kids aren’t required to provide anything to get in - not even their legal name or an explanation of why they’re homeless. A large rainbow flag hangs in the corner.  

The Crib only has 20 beds. They use a lottery system to decide who gets in and who is turned away. There are 2,000 kids homeless in Chicago every night.

You can watch the show on PBS Detroit Monday, April 13th at 10pm or online. If you do tune in, tell us what you thought about it. 

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