A global issue in Minneapolis / by KirstenStudio

hadlegsI recently attended a few film classes, events and screenings that have addressed global issues across the planet.  Regardless of how far away Africa or the Middle East are, these issues are still close to home because they address challenges that are more common to the human race than just one or two cultures.

That’s why when I was catching up on my Time magazine reading in the last couple days, I stopped on an article from the March 23, 2009 issue, entitled Keeping Homeless Kids in School.  The first sentence read: “Right now, nearly 1 in 10 children attending public school in Minneapolis is homeless.”  The second sentence read: “Read that sentence again.”  I did.  Then I read it from the top one more time.

I’m not sure why it was so shocking to me.  I hear that we have plenty of homelessness and hunger in our own country, but I still found those numbers pretty frightening.  It reminded me of how global issues are just a stones throw away, yet we don’t always get a Feed the Children type commercial, guilting us to help those 1 and 10 homeless kids in Minneapolis.

The Time article offered facts such as “Over the past two decades, Minneapolis’ 33,000-student district has seen a steady increase in the number of homeless kids, as the Twin Cities area has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs and the supply of affordable housing has dwindled.”  That’s two decades of a growing problem and this was the first I’ve read of it. Since I don't live in the midwest, that could be part of it, but it shouldn't have escaped my radar.

With our country’s mounting economic problems I’d expect some increase in homelessness and from what Kathleen Kingsbury writes (the author of this article), the recent and rapid financial downturn has just added fuel to an already, out of control fire.  Ms. Kingsbury writes, “The recession has worsened the problem: between July and December, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) tallied nearly 20% more homeless students than during the same period the year before.” That’s a huge leap and I guess I would be less surprised if this drastic increase in what is now referred to as “highly mobile students” were from areas that we hear about being the most badly hit, such as the failing American automakers in Michigan or the dismal housing foreclosure numbers in Florida.  But this is Minneapolis Minnesota.  

Nevertheless homeless numbers are climbing and I suppose this is just about the fact that the country (and world) is experiencing serious hardship.  Foreclosures and unemployment are high in Michigan just like they’re high everywhere and the result of that is school buses making daily stops at homeless shelters to pick up kids every weekday morning. The same kids that make up our nation’s future.  I think many of us still picture homelessness as faceless winos because for some odd reason that makes people on the street easier to ignore.  The fact we all know though is the homeless are individuals like anybody and are often part of a family and that family consists of children. 

mp_main_wide_homelessstudentsbOf course we can’t just blame the escalating homeless student percentage all on these depressing economic times.  Like the article reads, it’s been growing steadily for decades.  From what I understand, a large number of the homeless population in our country, are those troubled by emotional and/or mental disabilities and other obstacles just a glib. Those that were living on the fringe of homelessness because they were barely maintaining a “normal” existence, making ends meet and just hanging on to a minimal job, are probably now more likely to be living in cars, the streets or a shelter where those with a family attempt to continue their kid's education.  America's recession explains why the numbers are increasing so quickly as of late, but it doesn’t speak to those that have been displaced prior to this national financial mess.

Regardless of the timing and increase in numbers, there are just a lot of homeless families and individuals and it is no doubt incredibly emotionally distressing to arrive at that point and even more so if you are homeless and have children or if you are a homeless kid without a guardian at all.  If you are an adult it's not just about landing a job quickly and saving enough to get back into an home.  A person and their family must have the proper copping tools to foster and maintain a lasting, safe and functional environment.  Shelters are wonderful, but they are even more wonderful if they offer programs that assist individuals and families in need, to become emotionally and financially independent for the long run.  Helping everyone with they're individual issues is easier said than done, obviously.

It is my opinion that America should rise to the challenge of homelessness by examining how it often happens.  There is a reason emotional and mental illness is escalating as well as drug addiction and abuse.  I believe it has a lot to do with our social structure as a nation, which includes, but is by no way limited to it’s unrealistic expectations and it’s loss of value given to a simple way of life (i.e. the value of a mail carrier, versus the value we put on the winner of American Idol.  The value of not multi-tasking, but being present to each moment).  These misplaced social priorities are handed down to the next generation and so on.  Also, there is the whole minority side of it.  There's a huge number of homeless minorities in America.  Is that because our minority countrymen aren't receiving the same opportunities that others are?  I guess not.  Again, where are our priorities?  Getting into the theory of social issues and reform is a whole other blog worth (book worth) and I think it's pretty evident  that setting new social priorities won't eliminate all America's problems. I'm only saying it's something to take time to look at.

I checked out whether filmmakers are paying attention to the homeless youth of Minneapolis and I was happy to see that was a documentary entitled Homeless Youth: Finding Home as well as a piece called The Homeless Home Movie.  Both of these films track a group of young individuals facing and living with homelessness.  Although I confess I've seen neither film (could just find a couple clips on youtube), I am glad to hear they are out there.  Homeless Youth: Finding Home is connected with The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation (a nonprofit health and human services organization) so there looks to be valuable outreach associated with the film.  Unfortunately neither film looked to be scheduled for release beyond local broadcast (at least that I could find).  I'd love to see a documentary on this that gets inside the shelters and inside these student's lives so a broad audience can make a human connection with these kids.  Then I'd love to see that documentary hit the film festival circuit.  

Right now America is restructuring our priorities with the national budget, our foreign polities, why not take a look at the human faces of America in need, and prioritize? We’re addressing it with a plan of action for giving everyone accessible and affordable health care.  That’s a great start.  Maybe if we continue along that theme and connect the dots to those on the fringe of society, some of the other areas in need of restructuring will fall into place a little easier.  I’m sure most everyone will agree that humans, especially children, have the right to security, hope, care and safety.  Those are human rights and therefore it’s a global issue.  Although it looks like some stories have been documented on film and video, but I don't think it's nearly enough.  A global story is calling.  A story of “highly mobile students” in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We should see their faces and have an understanding of what their lives are like and what they’re up against.  One of the first steps in effective outreach and could be a compelling piece of film too.