What was your biggest worry today?
Was it where the money for your next meal was going to come from?
Was it where you were going to sleep tonight?
Was it where you would be able to shower, if at all?
Was it where you would get help?
These are just some of the anxieties, questions and uncertainties America’s 1.8 million homeless youth have to face on a daily basis. Their worries never stop.
Survival is the name of the game for the homeless youth of America who work every day to make it to the next. Filmmaker and director Michael Leoni undertook the project of a lifetime in 2009 when he set out to film a public service announcement about homeless youth in Los Angeles.
What he found and experienced could not be adequately communicated in an advertisement. What he found was bigger than himself.
He needed to immerse himself in their lives and learn about these kids. It was the only way they were going to trust him. It was the only way he would be able to tell their story. He needed to give them the attention they deserved and they needed his belief in them. American Street Kid shines a light on the plight, the struggles and the daily lives of America’s homeless youth. Through this documentary Michael reveals fundamental truths not only about what it means to be homeless as a youth but also what it means to help these kids.
Self-doubt and feeling unworthy of another’s love and attention was a major theme Michael had to reckon with when talking to these youth. Their feelings stem from the all too similar pasts they have experienced. Whether coming from a broken family, an abusive family, a family that disregarded them, a family that told them they weren’t worthy, or a family that abandoned them at whatever age, the homeless youth he encountered didn’t have a lot of belief in themselves and didn’t know their own worth.
In the process of engaging himself in their lives, Michael was able to better understand the missing link homeless youth need: one-on-one attention and care. All they want is a family and love. No one should be denied this most basic of human rights.
At the outset, he didn’t foresee himself changing the approach to outreach, but after learning from and about the youth, he knew what needed to be done. Outreach is important and it is available but it’s not always accessible, ironically, in the most dire of times. Through trial and error, Michael saw the flaws in the systematic approach and took it upon himself to help these kids. This one-on-one attention and devotion kept the kids motivated and although it took a while in certain cases, he made a difference in their lives.
The kids were shown love. They were shown affection. They were shown care.
These all combined to convince them that yes, they too are worthy of feeling love from someone else despite the uneasiness of it all. It took a lot of convincing and work, but in the end, homeless youth need someone to believe in them so they can believe in themselves.
It’s time to work together to get all these kids off the street.