This is an enlightening documentary but also a very sobering one. It may also be the most difficult film I’ve ever written about. For a long time the estimate of homeless youth was said to be anywhere from 48,000 to 2.8 million. No one knew for sure because there was never any funding for an accurate count (even though there’s grant money to be had to find out things such as what happens to a monkey when you hit it very hard and repeatedly on the head). There was funding in The Leahy-Collins Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 2015 (yes, Susan Collins once had a soul) but it didn’t pass because language included LGBTQ youth. Finally, in 2017 the University of Chicago undertook the first national count and determined that there are four million teens and young adults on the streets. On. The. Streets. This nation has 5000 shelters for animals (and I’m all in favor of that) but only 400 for kids. Every day 13 of them die, some by their own hands. Most of them fled abusive situations or were kicked out for drug use or because they are queer (40% are LGBTQ). Of those who age out of the foster system almost half become homeless. Homeless youth are at risk of becoming involved in sex trafficking; one third of them will be lured into it within two days of leaving home. The average age of sex victims is 12.
Homelessness used to be almost unknown in the US from the end of the Great Depression to the 1980s. Then President Ronald Reagan, continuing a policy he’d instituted as governor of California, closed mental institutions to shave money from the budget for social programs. The new mantra was Self Determination (basically meaning you have then right to run your own life – even if you’re batshit crazy – so long as you’re not a danger to others or yourself) and the former residents of those institutions ended up on the streets. (Public housing and Section 8 funds were slashed at the same time, going from $32 billion to 7.5 billion.) Reagan pronounced in an interview that most of those who were homeless were in that situation by choice. (He didn’t say whose choice.) The director and interviewer is Rotini Rainwater who himself experienced being homeless as a young man (he set up a screening of his earlier documentary on homelessness for congress; no one from either party showed up – this is obviously a bipartisan nonissue). Experts on the issue and concerned celebrities (Jon Bon Jovi, Halle Berry and Jewel, who also executive produced) are interviewed. But it’s the youngsters who are the real stars here. If you can come away from this film without your heart broken, you don’t have one.