On Weds, April 30 and Thurs, May 1 the National Runaway Safeline was privileged to host a Q&A session between our NRS Youth Activist…
On Weds, April 30 and Thurs, May 1 the National Runaway Safeline was privileged to host a Q&A session between our NRS Youth Activist League and “American Street Kid ” filmmakers Michael Leoni and Michelle Kaufer on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The NRS Youth Activist League–a dynamic group of young people from across the country that work to raise awareness of issues facing youth and help provide their input on solutions to benefit their peers–provided so many engaging, thought provoking and insightful questions that we actually added a day Q&A session and still didn’t get to cover everything.
We are grateful to be working with such an exceptional team of teens nationwide and honored by the generosity and passionate commitment of “American Street Kid ” filmmakers! Here, we provide a transcript of the session in its entirety as they discuss their new feature documentary, the runaway and homeless youth issues they expose, and how the film can be used to advocate on behalf of youth.
Q: What inspired you to go out and film/interview homeless teens? – Amy
A: We were already familiar with the cause because we had produced a play called The Playground, which was inspired by the true stories of homeless youth. We knew that a play could only reach a select amount of people so, we went out to shoot a 2-minute public service announcement, which over the course of five and a half years transformed into a full length feature film called American Street Kid.
(Read more about how “American Street Kid” moved from a 2-min PSA to a full length feature film).
Q: Based off of the director’s experience, what seems to be the leading reason that youth leave their homes? – Emily
A: For the most part, the kids we met were the product of abuse (sexual, physical and/or emotional), drug addicted parents or the foster care system.
Q: Were there any common trends or themes you recognized in the backgrounds/family histories of the homeless youth you interviewed? – Molly
A: The most common themes were abuse (sexual, physical and/or emotional), neglect and drug abuse.
(Learn more about “Why They Run: An in-depth look at America’s runaway youth” from research presented by NRS).
Q: Were there times when you felt that your own safety was threatened during the process of filming the documentary? –Megan
A: We never felt threatened by any of the kids we worked with but there were definitely some locations (dark alleys, rooftops, etc) that were scary at night and some other people on the street that were a bit intimidating.
Q: Your movie is really focused on individual experiences, but it seems like we need more systemic changes to really address homelessness. What policy changes do you think need to be made? –Dan C.
A: This is a double-edged sword, Dan. Yes, there is a desperate need for policy reform and a major overhaul of the child welfare system and there are amazing groups, like the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) fighting that good fight. What we want to put our focus on are the kids that are on the streets right now that are dying out there right now. It is the helping of those kids where we feel that we can be most of service.
Q: What can more privileged kids/teens do right now to help other homeless teens? –Amy
A: There are so many things that can be done. One of the easiest thing other kids can do is to spread the message of awareness through social media. They can also get directly involved and volunteer with their local organizations. It is so powerful for kids to realize that these kids are their peers.
Q: What is the hardest part of leaving home? –Khush
A: We’re not sure there is a “hardest part” of leaving home. Not having a place to sleep, eating out of dumpsters, selling your body for money – they’re all pretty hard to deal with from our perspective. We imagine that each kid would have his/her own idea of what was hardest.
Q: Many of us are sympathetic towards youths who use drugs because we understand it is a complex issue. I noticed in the promo that there was a depiction of drug use. Do you think it may negatively impact some people’s opinions of homeless youth? –Rachael
A: Of course, and it’s mostly due to being uneducated on why drugs come into play for homeless youth. We hope to shed some light on that in the film.
Q: What is the most important thing to all of you that viewers take away from this documentary? -Heather
A: One of the most important things we hope viewers take away from American Street Kid is that these kids did not create this path and given the proper resources they have the ability to overcome it. It takes one person to make the difference!
Q: What can be done to end homelessness? –Dominique
A: This is such a multi-layered question because there is no silver bullet to solve youth homelessness. However the 2 major subsets are: Get the kids off the streets that are already there AND stop kids from running before they end up on the streets
(Read more about NRS participation in the National Network For Youth “Framework to End Youth Homelessness.”)
Q: What do you all think are some ways the average person could impact the lives of homeless children in a positive way? –Heather
A: There are so many ways people can help. But if you want to have an immediate impact – look a kid in the eye and say hello, ask them their name, smile at them. They spend so many hours of their day being ignored or jeered at that sometimes even the simplest smile can have a huge impact.
Q: What advice would you give for other children who are homeless? Or considering running away? –Khush
A: If a youth is considering running away, the best thing to do is to talk to an adult they trust – a teacher, a counselor, a relative, a neighbor – just talk to somebody and together you can come up with a better solution. The streets shouldn’t be an option for anyone – the streets are horrible.
(Also, NRS provides teachers, counselors, social workers, and professionals a comprehensive Runaway Prevention Curriculum that can be downloaded free of charge).
Q: Some people’s opinion is that ending homelessness is less about getting youths off the streets, but more about preventing them from having to make that choice in the first place. Based on what you have seen while filming, is this achievable? -Rachael
A: This is a discussion we have very often and both sides are extremely important. There are kids dying on our streets every day and their needs must be addressed. In addition, creating as many preventative measures is hugely important. Stopping kids from running away to the streets in the first place will most definitely have a huge impact!
Q: Your documentary provides an inside look into youth homelessness in the U.S. – please tell us about your future plans for helping to create awareness about this issue. –Molly
A: In addition to presenting a national screening tour for American Street Kid our goal is to continue the awareness efforts with an ongoing national media campaign. We will produce PSA’s, Radio Ads and other Internet video programming aimed at raising the country’s awareness about youth homelessness.
Q: If we were really moved by the suffering of others, it seems like we’d all open our doors and invite anyone living on the streets into our houses. Why aren’t more of us doing that? –Dan C.
A: That’s a tough question to answer; we can’t really speak for other people. We did open our doors to the kids (against the advice of many). However, to open your door is an act of faith and you have to feel comfortable and safe in order to do so and we did.
Q: How does it make you feel when someone says that there are just too many kids to help? – Amy
A: It’s disheartening to hear that anyone would feel that youth homelessness is too big of a problem and so they shouldn’t help. We understand that it can be overwhelming but aren’t most social issues? It, like anything else deserves attention, focus and patience in developing solutions.
Q: Through the experience of making this documentary, what did you learn about resources for homeless youth? Are they readily available? Difficult to access? –Molly
A: What we found was that the basic resources – food and clothing was available through several local non-profits. What was missing, from our perspective, was the individual, focused attention geared toward getting them off the streets.
Q: I also noticed in a clip of the film that they reach out to an emergency youth hotline and are told there isn’t a lot available In the LA area. I know that is something we deal with frequently at NRS and its extremely disheartening and frustrating. What else do they think could be done or needs to be done to increase the amount of services for homeless youth? –Jen
A: We found no emergency housing available for kids that wanted desperately to get off the streets. The only immediate solutions were at adult shelters, which are both unsafe and extremely scary for youth. We feel like creating emergency resources is just one of the more immediate things that should be done
Q: What coping mechanisms did youth employ to ease the challenges of homelessness? –Molly
A: The most frequently used coping mechanism for kids on the streets is, unfortunately, drugs. It helps to numb the pain and helps them forget about their current situation (as much as they possibly can).
Q: Does the stigma of being homeless prevent other youth and young adults from donating to homeless people?
A: Yes, we do feel that sometimes people who are uneducated about youth homelessness might have preconceived notions that prevent them from helping.
Q: And is the problem more to do with the lack of social services available or the lack of knowledge that certain social services exist, such as a hotline, shelter, or safe house? –Dan O.
A: We feel the larger problem for the kids has more to do with the lack of adequate services that are focused on helping them get off the streets.
Q: What is the overall message that you hope this documentary will communicate with the greater population? –Megan
A: One of the overall messages we hope to communicate is that these kids deserve a chance. They did not create their circumstances and given the proper amount of love and support, they are totally capable of overcoming them.
Q: How can homeless youth begin to think about their personal, academic, and career future when they are constantly worried about when their next meal is going to be and where they are sleeping for the night? – Tessa
A: Exactly Tessa! That’s the biggest challenge kids on the streets face every day. The streets become a trap and it is so hard to get out of it on their own. They need support!!
Q: What did the filmmakers notice about resiliency and resiliency factors in homeless youth during the filming of the documentary? –Jen
A: The kids on the streets are the most resilient kids you will meet. They have to face hurdles every day that most of us couldn’t even imagine. It really makes you conscious of the petty things we all complain about.
Q: What was the hardest part about seeing the situations these kids live with? –Dominique
A: Seeing the kids situations was equally hard on all fronts – how they had to eat, sleep and survive…but I would say, seeing them sell their bodies was probably the most difficult thing.
Q: Do you have a somewhat empirical way to gauge the impact of the film? –Rachael
A: We will be hosting community screenings across the country and will be liaising with organizations like NRS and NAEHCY to hold roundtable discussions with local advocates, policy makers, politicians etc. It is our hope that these discussions lead to strategies that can be applied locally and therefore produce tangible results that can be measured.
Q: How do you maintain hope? –Khush
A: Seeing the success that happens when kids believe in themselves and have someone that believes in them, helps to keep our hope alive.
Q: Did you encounter any stories while making this film that just really didn’t fit your expected narratives of youth homelessness? –Dan C.
A: We had quite a bit of knowledge going in about the cause of youth homelessness. Yet, we were still overwhelmed by the tragic, senseless torment these kids have had to endure. Truly nothing could have prepared us for the gut-punch of sitting with a kid and having them pour their heart out about their abuse.
Q: Was it hard to go home at night knowing that there are kids on the streets? –Dominique
A: Going home at the end of the night was extremely hard. You certainly have a different appreciation for your bed when you’ve just left a group of teenagers sleeping on a sidewalk or under a freeway.
Q: How did this film making experience change you all? -Heather
A: Making American Street Kid had (and is still having) a major impact on who we are as people and how we view the world. You might think it made us bitter but it’s actually the opposite, the kids, their strength and resolve, shined a light and gave us hope.
Q: How did the director go about building rapport and trust with the youth he found on the streets?– Emily
A: It took time and lots of trust to build the rapport with the kids. Mostly, it was because they could tell that Michael truly cared about their well-being and was not looking to exploit their stories but instead really wanted to help them get off the streets.
Q: What are some ways that viewers of the documentary can help support homeless youth? –Molly
A: After seeing American Street Kid, viewers can help by supporting Spare Some Change, the non-profit organization we’re building to help kids access the tools they need to get off the streets and achieve the life they desire.