On Thursday night, our theatrical run at the Gene Siskel Film Center concluded. Bringing the film home to Chicago was a powerful experience, and we were so honored to have the film be welcomed so enthusiastically this past week. It means so much that the film is beginning to do it’s work in the world - we had sold out audiences and film critics like Richard Roeper calling the film “heartbreaking.”
On Opening Night at the Siskel, we were honored to have the original student who inspired us to make The Homestretch in the audience, with his teacher. When we met this young man back in 2009, he was an incredibly smart, ambitious and talented high school student who was experiencing homelessness due to coming out as gay to his family and community. He opened our eyes to this hidden world of unaccompanied kids who are on their own and homeless. And he questioned the pervasive negative stereotype of the runaway-kid-sleeping-under-the-bridge which we all see so much in our media. He was a teenager trying to fit in with his peers, trying to graduate high school and trying to build his future, all without having a consistent place to sleep or a family to wrap their arms around him. It was moving to have him and his teacher in the audience - they were the reason we were all in that room watching the film.
That same evening we gathered a group of Homeless Liaisons and Clerks from the Chicago Public Schools and honored them for the work they do to support kids in crisis dealing with homelessness. We announced our Chicago Call-to-Action to ask audiences to donate funds to supply twelve chosen schools with emergency supplies for their homeless students. For these Homeless Liaisons and Clerks, who fly under the radar, and who are often spending their own money on supporting ‘their’ kids, it was a rare hopeful moment that showed that people are starting to become aware of this crisis.
One of the biggest contributing factors to The Homestretch’s success was the deep involvement of our Chicago partners. Teen Living Programs, The Night Ministry, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the National Runaway Safeline, who all co-sponsored screenings of the film. They packed the house time and time again with community leaders who could help, with youth who have struggled with homelessness and with the professionals and volunteers that serve them. For the young people, it was cathartic to have audiences actually listen to their stories. For the service providers, it renewed their commitment to supporting this invisible population.
Director Anne shot off this email Wednesday morning: “The second talkback on Tuesday was especially emotional - The National Runaway Safeline event was mostly for their volunteers who work the lines, and they talked about how amazing it was to see the faces of some of the youth that they only ever hear over the phone, and to see the stories move past the moment of crisis that they usually share with the youth. One woman was surprised (and relieved) to see a friend's daughter at The Crib. One of the young people we worked with at TLP showed up unexpectedly and spoke really beautifully about how moved he was by the film. And then Roque said the most extraordinary things about Maria last night and what it means to have someone finally love you. I'm an emotional wreck this morning in all the best ways!”
With our Chicago Premiere week winding down, our national impact campaign is just gearing up. The relationships we’ve established with communities and partners across the country will allow us to emulate the impact we are having in Chicago. The goal is to challenge negative stereotypes that plague homeless youth, and to generate empathy in those who have ignored the issue.