How would it feel to be assumed anonymous? Especially in a country that feels very much like your own---a place where you’ve grown up, made friends, had family, lost family; nationality is such an intangible thing, borders are an even more vague and extraneous tradition. Within the United States there are millions of undocumented citizens, striving to be recognized in the fabric of a society and a country that they call home, in a place that feels like home, to them. Many of those are homeless. In Chicago, 19,000 homeless students attend public schools, simultaneously suffering from a variety of immigration problems, juvenile justice issues and LGBTQIA discrimination. "The Homestretch" is a film that is playing as a part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, focusing on the lives of three Americans and their struggles with these issues, and on a larger level---homelessness.
The first kid is Roque, his father has gone into hiding, it seems, after immigration problems. Soon after, his mother marries another man---emotionally ousting Roque, who feels betrayed by her actions. Roque talks about “loneliness” as a construct. There are shots of him walking around Chicago neighborhoods, visibly looking for something more, as he describes the overwhelming tendency of being alone, and what that does to your psyche. Soon after his mother married another man, Roque decided to leave home, no longer feeling welcome, or happy with his home life with his mother. He was homeless until his teacher decided to take him, providing a safe place for where he could be. She laments over her own childhood, not having anyone to turn to, knowing what it feels like to not be cared for and wants to be able to give that protection to someone in need. Roque likes Shakespeare, he relates to the story of "Hamlet," the feelings of betrayal, anger, resentment, bitterness and frustration, the exacting desire of revenge---are all things he could relate to. He hones in those sentiments in his role as "Hamlet" in a play he performs at school. Wanting to get better grades, he’s aiming to go to college.
Kasey is bright eyed, though she suffers from debilitating depression. Though, there is so much light to her presence that every time she was onscreen it was a heart warming experience of watching her interact with her peers. At the beginning of the film, she lives at Belfort House, a shelter for homeless youth in Chicago. There, she has her own bed, and her own room. She’s a fan of "Othello," relating to the character of Iago, and the oscillation of his character between friend or foe. In a scene where she characterizes Iago, you know that she understands the complexity of human nature; there is a wisdom that emanates through her. Although she, it seems, is on good terms with her mother and grandmother, she doesn’t live with them, but they come to visit her and she jovially tries to appease them. The ostensible sadness of Kasey is glaring, what struck me was that she seemed to understand, so deeply, the workings of the world---she seemed to know what people expect of her, and was very conscious of trying hard to keep those standards up.
Anthony’s smile is electric, when somebody pays him a compliment, he can’t take it, he blushes, flooded with embarrassment. He’s hardworking, has two jobs, is trying to get his GED and is trying to get back his son, who is at a foster home. He explains that he made mistakes when he was younger, and is now in a position where he wants to take ownership of his life and take the steps to do what he can to ensure his dreams. And he wants, and is willing, to prove his worth. He makes music on the side so his kid one day knows that he papa loves him, you see this child of his being the perfect motivator, Anthony wants to be better for his son.
The devastation of watching these kids is realizing how much they have to give. Their lives are as valuable as mine, or yours, yet due to circumstances, they are given little-to-zero agency over the outcome. Our society operates on money, education, privilege equating access, whereas Roque, Kasey and Anthony are fighting for something as basic as wanting or needing shelter, a place to call theirs. In a scene where Anthony says that he’s never had a home before, that he wants one just so he can have a place for his son to come home to, was absolutely heart breaking. Their needs are so rudimentary, so entirely fundamental. Homelessness is such a silent killer. There are ideas of what homeless people are, that they perhaps deserved it, but all this movie shows is the injustices of such a circumstantial thing. The lasting legacy of this film is the three of them; battling in a terrible situation, but embodying a beautiful humanity as they try and push forward, onto the next step.
Fariha Roisin is a freelance film and culture writer. Follow her on Twitter: @fariharoisin