by Tyler Mangrum
– The Capitol Hill Times –
“There’s nothing that can happen to me out here that wasn’t happening to me in my house, so I might as well get out.”
To flee a relationship that was physically, mentally, and sexually abusive, a woman who chose to be identified as Cindy has done what many would consider unthinkable: become homeless. Having recently moved to the city with her abusive husband, and in lieu of any other place to stay, she took to sleeping during the day at Cal Anderson Park so she could protect herself from potential attacks at night.
“I like to work, I just don’t have the focus for it right now, especially with what’s happened with my ex-husband,” Cindy said. “I’ve got some mental issues, but evidently I’m not crazy enough to get the help I used to. I’ve been in tent cities before because of it, so I’m hoping that this time will just be temporary situation. I want to move on.”
Stories like these are the focus of a new film fellowship by Seattle University, which will shine a spotlight on the experiences of Seattle’s homeless population, particularly of families, to combat the stereotype of “professional homelessness.” Instead, the fellowship’s head, Lindy Boustedt, believes it will illuminate the unfortunate, uncontrollable circumstances that culminate in homelessness and drive people to action.
“The focus of this program is homelessness among families, which is largely invisible, even though families make up half of the homeless population,” said Boustedt. “In fact, more than 27,000 school-aged children in Washington were reported as homeless during the 2011-2012 school year. We want to shine a spotlight on this vulnerable population and on the causes of, and solutions to, family homelessness.”
The fellowship came as the result of a $250,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which chose Seattle University for previous work done in relation to social justice, particularly in the Project for Family Homelessness that was born from the Journalism Fellowships on Family Homelessness in 2010.
“We are very pleased to again partner with the Gates Foundation,” said David Powers, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The Film and Family Homelessness Project is another demonstration of the university’s commitment to community service and to involving students in positive social change.”
On top of the work of the Project for Family Homelessness, Boustedt points to the high level of activism seen by Seattle University’s students, as well as the fact that the university took an active hand in assisting the city’s homeless population by becoming the first university to provide a temporary home for a tent city back in 2005.
“The Film and Family Homelessness Project builds on Seattle University’s current work in the field of family homelessness and reflects the university’s Jesuit Catholic mission of empowering leaders for a just and humane world,” Boustedt said. “Three out of four Seattle U. students volunteer in the community. Hosting Tent City 3 extended campus resources, tapped into the talents of faculty, staff and students, and provided the opportunity to explore the social, legal, and theological implications of homelessness in classrooms across campus.”
Boustedt, a filmmaker herself, believes that film is a natural tool for social justice, as there are few avenues of communication that can move such large volumes of people in such little time. By showing these films at next year’s SIFF, Boustedt firmly believes that the effect on the audiences will be all but inevitable.
“Film has the ability to reach audiences in a way that other approaches can’t,” Boustedt said. “Our hope is the films, shown alone or as a whole, will help raise awareness and provide a powerful springboard for discussion and an inspiration to action. The films are sure to create the reaction in viewers that something must be done, and we’ll provide them with tools to take that energy and help drive meaningful action and change.”
As for exactly what viewers will be able to do if they are moved to action, Boustedt and Seattle University already have a plan to make helping homeless people and families as easy as possible.
“For one thing, we’re partnering with numerous nonprofit and advocacy organizations who are making a real impact in changing the way we address these social issues. This could be everything from the simple step of donating school supplies for homeless children, to empowering themselves as citizens and making their voices heard by our leaders in the work to end homelessness. It depends on what the films have to say, but we don’t want people to walk away and lose the momentum they felt while they were watching the films.”