In August, just before the academic year begins, 1200 individuals from Chicago Public Schools gather for Homeless Liaison Training. The half-day seminar, attended by two representatives per school, is rich with information about how to support homeless youth so they can stay in school. This year’s training had a special feature: fifteen minutes of edited material from The Homestretch.
With a grant from the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, used and unused footage from the film’s theatrical version was combined to capture the struggles homeless youth face and the role schools play in helping them survive. This educational reel, which played during the Homeless Liaison Training’s introduction, served as an emotional and empathetic compliment to the information rich sessions that followed.
More importantly, the impact of this film reel extended beyond the fifteen minutes it played. “We saw the negative effect homelessness had on the emotional well being of characters in The Homestretch,” said one panelist during the Resources & Referrals session, “and the negative health effects linked to homelessness don’t stop there. These youth are at higher risk for dental problems, STDs, and suicidal thoughts, among other things.”
This quote is a microcosm for what The Homestretch aspires to be: a gateway to conversations that raise awareness and move towards change. With this educational reel, the full-length film, and an expanding catalog of resources in hand, The Homestretch moves closer to achieving its goals.
The Homeless Liaisons that saw this footage come from diverse corners of their respective schools; they are secretaries, algebra teachers, sometimes even principals. They all have two things in common, though: they are not paid for this assigned responsibility, and they serve a desperate population.
For both rookie and veteran liaisons, this annual training is vital. They learn about the most up to date resources available to homeless youth, changes in CPS policy, and relevant legislation. Information and their own resourcefulness are the only tools liaisons will have for serving the 19,000+ homeless youth registered in CPS schools.
Scenes from The Homestretch gave this year’s training something it has never had before: a narrative glimpse of the difficulties homeless youth and liaisons face. Reactions to the educational reel confirmed that it was both eye opening and cathartic for these individuals that serve youth on a daily basis.