This summer, as most of you know, I embarked on a project to uncover some “truths” about homelessness in the United States. We captured nearly 250 hours on film from coast to coast. The heartbreaking, devastating, and frustrating stories are told by the homeless and formerly homeless, recounting the many days of living on the streets, in cars, shelters, tents, subway and bus stations, and in abandon buildings. There were many times I found myself and my crew in tears as we listened. It was incredible.
I think what has been more incredible is what we have been able to accomplish before we have even completed the film. As I write this I am sitting in the editor’s office as he cuts and clips the footage together. With edits underway I can tell you the film will be fantastic. What I didn’t expect was how the film would change me, my family, several of my friends and the crews that were involved. I have had so many phone calls asking me to speak about the experience; asking where you can drop off food and clothing; asking what organizations should receive donations—all of these make me know that we are accomplishing our goal of raising awareness.
More incredibly, a friend has decided to open a small business next year, hiring up to 12 homeless and formerly homeless. The impact of this is much greater than just the 12 that will be employed and off the street, it will be the 12 beds it frees up at a shelter and 12 more mouths that can be fed at a soup kitchen. More importantly, it will be 12 stories of “how I got off the streets” that will serve as inspiration for those who are still struggling as well as the families and friends that will hear the stories for generations to come.
Ok, great Morgan, you told us this before. What does this have to do with Running Scared?
Over the course of many months and the hundreds of hours of interviews what I found most disturbing were the kids that are homeless and hiding around the country. The kids with their families were heart-breaking enough, but we interviewed so many kids that have run away from abusive situations and are on the streets alone. Some ran from foster parents, some from their own parents or grandparents, and some were abandon the adults in their lives Sadly, I also talked to a couple of girls that were sold into prostitution at the age of 12 and 14.
You will see in These Storied Streets where we cover some of these stories, but we didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Well, I guess I want to scratch the surface now. It should come as no surprise that these kids, in most cases, are the incubator for homeless adults. What’s worse is many have given up on an education as survival has become there only priority. I know that it sounds crazy, but more times than not these kids felt safer on the streets than where they did in the homes they ha d ran from.
The interesting misconception about runaways is that they were “bad kids.” The more we talked to them the more you realize they were scared kids, just trying to survive. One of the best illustrations of this was a young man named Levon. Levon was continually abused as a child and ran away many times. The state or New York, like many states, would interview his father and then send him back home to endure the abuse again. To escape, Levon joined a gang saying “I knew they wouldn’t turn me home.” As scary as it seems to most of us, the gang provided him with food, shelter and safety for the 13 year old. It became his family. Unfortunately, it was still a gang.
Finally Levon recounts, “I did a lot of bad things, but at one point I saw so many people get killed or go to jail that I knew this wasn’t for me—so I ran again.” He ran as far as he could, ending up in Hawaii. Once there he got a call from one of his 7 brothers—he knew he had to get back to the mainland so he could be a bus ride away from them. Today Levon is in Las Vegas, studying to be a nurse. He is also chasing his dream to have his own line of clothes. He is lucky to have found a place that didn’t ‘turn him home.’
I was fortunate to meet another girl named Victoria. Victoria has been on her own for some time. I don’t want to ruin her story, but suffice to say it is incredible. She has agreed to help me with a follow up film. She will introduce us to these kids that are running and hiding, all over the country. She said that they aren’t hard to find if you are one of them—and I am one of them.
These are not kids who are jumping up and down asking to be heard or are asking to be helped. In many cases the “help” that the states provide is exactly what they are afraid of—and many times for good reason. Many states will turn the kids over to foster care or back to their parents.
BUT there is hope! There are a handful of states and organizations that have figured it out—that have become the safe haven for these kids—that have essentially helped them be on their own, within boundaries teaching them to become well adjusted, responsible adults. Don’t believe me? Wait until you meet Jose in These Storied Streets.
As I look at my own four children and their friends, I can’t imagine them in the streets with nowhere to go at 12 years old. As I look at them, I can’t imagine not wanting to get involved and help. So the next film will be trying to help a lot of kids who are now, or at some point were, not so unlike my own kids—who desperately need help. I want to help them tell their story and open our eyes to what is going on in front of us. Hopefully this leads to attention, action and the help they need. The one thing I have learned is it just takes one person and a little momentum to start a movement. For the sake of these kids, I hope to help do that.