Emory Reflects on Youth Homelessness and The Homestretch

Emory University's Homeless Outreach and Awareness Project is a student group that strives "to break the social barriers and prejudices associated with homelessness." As part of their year round programming, the organization screened The Homestretch on campus, pairing the viewing with a discussion about the issues raised in the film. From this came an incredible reflection written by junior Tracy Li, which we've featured below.

By Tracy Li

Homelessness. Close your eyes and think of the word homelessness. What is the picture that first pops into your head? What are the stereotypes that you first think of? What are the feelings that you first experience? At a group reflection that I was participating in, we were asked these questions. The responses that people gave varied but an answer that I didn’t hear was that they had imagined a young person. The issue of homelessness in youth is a problem that not many people are actively aware about.  Yet youth make up a significant portion of the homeless population. In fact, children under 18 account for 39% of the homeless population*. The documentary, “The Homestretch”, shines light on the experience of three distinct young adults in their struggle against being homeless. What is important to note though is that this movie documents the stories of just three homeless youth. Their reasons for becoming homeless, the obstacles they face, and the success they did or did not have at rising out of homelessness is just a slice of the overall picture. This documentary serves to emphasize the point that the face of homelessness can’t be categorized into one neat box. In fact, the story of homelessness is extremely diverse and especially in the case of youth, there is not a short and succinct solution to the problem.

The stories of Anthony, Kasey, and Roque are the three individuals that have been chosen to be highlighted in this documentary. They each have unique backstories, personalities, and circumstances. Anthony really stood out to me personally. He made bad decisions in the past, but because of his hard working mentality, he was determined to remedy them, move on and make his life better. Throughout his entire story, he kept emphasizing that his motivation to succeed and become independent was all so that he could regain custody of his son. In the end he got his GED and was accepted into Chicago’s Step Up program. Anthony’s story shows how there are young and motivated individuals, who are able to push on from unfortunate circumstances, and move up in life when given the opportunities and resources. 

It was interesting hearing the reasons behind why Anthony, Kasey, and Roque were homeless. For Anthony it stemmed from traumatic foster care systems and abusive guardians, for Kasey it was from unsupportive parents and her preference for female partners, and for Roque it was due to immigration complications. This demonstrates how homelessness can stem from a variety of reasons and circumstances, and it is often not the “fault” of the young person that they are in the situation they are in. The fact that there are a lot of young people who have to go through the experience of homelessness is a pressing issue. Especially since youth is the time where we start to establish who we are and who we are going to be in the future, it is pertinent to give these youth experiencing homelessness the resources and opportunities to make their lives better.

*Safe Horizon