A film that showed me how close homelessness can be for families
Written by Emma Lytle, Seattle University senior communications major and project assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness
Note: This is the first in a series in which we ask our staff to react to the “American Refugees” film that most appealed to them.
Stability is the foundation and the glue that holds a family together. Stability comes in many forms, whether it’s sustaining a steady job or having a place to call home.
As the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, I grew up feeling that sense of stability. But some families aren’t always so lucky. Sometimes that glue disappears from a family as parents struggle to make ends meet.
“Home for Sale” is a captivating short film about the loss of a family’s stability and the reality of losing their home. This film showed me how close my family could have been to being homeless while I was growing up.
“That would never happen to us.”
This quote is from the short film. It’s what a couple says as they think about buying a foreclosed house. They feel they would never lose their home to foreclosure.
I have always believed this statement to be true for me and for my family too. This film shook me with the reality of homelessness.
Like the wife of the firefighter who lost his job in the short film, I never questioned the stability of my family. I always found security in my parents’ jobs because I never thought people could stop needing medical attention and people always need firefighters.
The filmmaker, Laura Jean Cronin, was a Film Fellow in the Seattle University Film & Family Homelessness Project. Interestingly, the inspiration for the film came from Laura and her partner’s real-life experience of considering purchasing a foreclosed house. Though Laura and her partner ultimately decided they couldn’t make a home out of the dashed dreams of another family, the experience clearly stayed with her.
I also talked with my dad about the film, mentioning how the film maker had intentionally chosen a firefighter’s family to lose their home because it is considered such a stable profession. She did this because she wanted to emphasize that foreclosure could happen to people you wouldn’t expect.
My dad responded to this, saying he has never known of any firefighter who has been laid off.
Despite that reassurance, seeing unemployment hit a firefighter family was a real shock, and scary to contemplate. I watched anxiously as the family’s stability erodes and their dreams begin to shatter.
Hearing the father’s story and seeing the family’s whole life unravel left me feeling uneasy. It even brought up feelings of helplessness as I realized that this happens to people I identify with. The fire department community is extremely small and everyone looks out for one another. It broke my heart to see someone in this community experience this tragedy. I can’t begin to imagine what my family would do if found in a similar situation.
This film made me think twice about the statement that many of us believe: “That would never happen to us.” My eyes are now forever open to how close homelessness is to all of us. I think many others who watch the film will be just as touched as I was.
The reality of family homelessness
Family homelessness is the fastest growing subset of homelessness. A major factor of family homelessness is unemployment. Unemployment often leads to foreclosure, accelerating the daunting route to homelessness seen in the film “Home for Sale.”
Washington state’s foreclosure rate is similar to the national average; in just the two months April and May 2014, more than 1,500 homes in Washington state were foreclosed. It’s truly sad just how much suffering can happen due to unemployment.
Washington State has a 0.07 percent foreclosure rate, whereas the national average is 0.08 percent. In April and May of 2014, Washington foreclosed just over 1,500 homes. That means up to 1,500 families who probably thought it could never happen to them. But it did.
“American Refugees”: Bringing the Issue to Life
“Home for Sale” is only one of the amazing films in the “American Refugees” collection. These films came to life through Seattle University’s Film and Family Homelessness Project. The project invited five professional filmmakers to create four animated short films that show different points of view on family homelessness.
These films premiered during a sold-out show at the Harvard Exit Theater during Seattle’s International Film Festival on May 19.
The Other Short Films:
- “Super Dads”: A film about three single dads struggling to take care of their children while living in cars, shelters, on the street and more. This film provides a unique glimpse into the struggles faced by single dads combatting homelessness.
- DID YOU KNOW? It can be really hard to find a shelter that allows dads to stay with their children. Many times the dad is separated from his children and put into a different shelter.
- “The Beast Inside”: A film about a young man named Tilawn who is a rapper living under a bridge with his dad. This selfless young man continuously maintains a positive attitude and is an inspiration to everyone he meets.
- DID YOU KNOW? Tilawn was at the showing of these short films and performed live for the guests and students volunteering at the event!
- “The Smiths”: Like “Home for Sale,” a father loses his job and his family starts to struggle, but this family has help. The family’s neighbors, the Smiths, let them borrow power, help them find temporary housing, and provide additional aid in any way they can.
- DID YOU KNOW? Without the help of the Smiths, this would have been another story of a family torn apart by homelessness. The Smiths helped the family stay together and plan out their future. We can all be the Smiths!
What Can You Do?
- Download or stream the films online! “Home for Sale” already has more than 1,000 views!
- Hold a viewing party to watch the films with others and download the discussion guide. Refer to this guide to join the conversation and use it to find some unique questions that will make you think about homelessness in a whole new way.
- Also follow our partner Firesteel for even more information on advocacy work and how you can make a change.
- TALK! Talk about homelessness with friends, family, co-workers and anyone willing to listen. The more people who start to understand the issue, the more we can do to prevent and end homelessness.
Go check out “Home for Sale” and the other films ASAP!