“I have to be my own parent…Loneliness is one of my worst enemies.”
Roque is one of three homeless teens profiled in The Homestretch, a new documentary from Kartemquin, that shines a light on the ways race, poverty, violence, sexuality, immigration status and foster care contribute to youth homelessness.
In 10th grade, Roque must fend for himself after an immigration raid forces his family apart, leaving him nowhere to go. Eventually, an empathetic teacher, Maria, invites him to live with her and become part of her family. “It’s not fair,” she says, “do you just let somebody wither?”
The film follows Roque, Anthony and Kasey through the harsh Chicago winters of their adolescent lives and into The Night Ministry’s Crib emergency youth shelter, Teen Living Programs’ Belfort House and Chicago Public Schools, where a shocking 22,000 kids are registered as “Students in Temporary Living Situations.” In other words: homeless.
“It’s because of the way that I am that my mom got rid of me.,” explains Kasey, a lesbian. She moved in with her grandmother until she couldn’t deal with all of the put-downs about her sexuality. Struggling with depression, Kasey eventually lands a spot at Belfort House, which supports homeless youth while they are in school or pursuing work. “It’s so great to have your own bed, especially if you were used to sharing with your grandmom.”
At The Night Ministry’s Crib, a lottery determines which 20 teens will get a spot on the floor to sleep and which teens will have to brave the rain all night long.
There, we meet Anthony, a foster care system survivor who’d been homeless since age 14. While living on the streets, Anthony turned to crime “to get what he needed,” got busted and put on probation for armed robbery.
“Almost every person has experienced physical and sexual assault," says Jake Bradley, a staffer at the shelter. "They’ve had stuff stolen all the time. They are criminalized for survival behavior.”
Anthony also scores a placement at the Teen Living Program at Belfort where he tries to pull his life together, and earn a GED, so that he can be a role model for his baby son.
Roque. Kasey. Anthony. Just three of the 1.6 million youth struggling with homelessness in the U.S. The Homestretch immerses us into the raw reality of their lives - rejection and acceptance, disappointment and joy, independence and self-doubt. These youth teeter on the edge of hope and we teeter with them for 90 memorable minutes.
What are the chances that Roque, Kasey and Anthony will “make it?” Will they find the support they need to become healthy, stable and responsible adults – high school graduates, college students, employed workers, engaged parents? Will they find a place to call home?
What are the chances the programs and services – the institutional surrogate parents that offer structure, housing, food and love to homeless youth – are able to survive in the face of funding struggles and cuts?
You’ll have to watch Homestretch to find out.
Check out the trailer.
Kasey, from The Homestretch, a film by Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly.