Sustainability and Cronkite film students expose the tragedies of homelessness

Dawson Morford, Katharina Saloman, and Sarah Aly El SayedHiding In Plain Sight and Fighting For A Home are two short films on the complexities of homelessness from School of Sustainability and Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication students in Peter Byck’s Sustainability Storytelling course. Hiding in Plain Sight spotlights a woman’s experience with homelessness and the special challenges she faces that differ from men. The film’s protagonist struggles to find nutrition, health care and shelter while trying to fill roles as a caretaker, mother and friend. First-time filmmakers Dawson Morford, Katharina Saloman and Sarah Aly El Sayed piece together a powerful portrait of a unique partnership between a homeless woman and a chronically ill man, while chronicling the plight of homeless women in Phoenix, Arizona. Highlighting the vulnerabilities of unsheltered women, the filmmakers show us there is no single narrative for the multiple demographic groups of homeless people. Women, specifically, face unique personal safety and health hurdles while living on the streets.
Fighting for a Home filmmakers (L to R) Austin Hochberg, Chentao Cui, Christian Volp and Colin Dueker
In Fighting for a Home, students Austin Hochberg, Chentao Cui, Christian Volp, and Colin Dueker follow Michael, a homeless military veteran, as he perseveres in his quest for better health, friendship, and stable housing outside of the CASS shelter in Phoenix. As Michael picks and chooses his way through challenges and opportunities, the filmmakers provide insight into systemic and structural inefficiencies, as well as gaps, in the social safety nets. Students in Byck’s Sustainability Storytelling course expose social conundrums and amplify human stories through a sustainability lens and the medium of film. They closely examine the social pillar of sustainability by telling powerful stories and searching for solutions. Audience members were so moved at the recent screenings at the School of Sustainability and Cronkite School, that they reached out to ask if the homeless veteran needed further help. At the Cronkite screening, mattresses and financial support were donated. Students know they are looking at highly complex challenges without easy solutions, but as Dawson Mofford said, the audience response “was encouraging because we saw how our work was already helping people.”
Michael, the main character in Fighting for a Home, gets a bed delivered to his home
Immediate help is not the only outcome from the Sustainability Storytelling course. As student Christian Volp came to understand: “The problem of homelessness in Phoenix is a complex problem. The complexity comes from the very different situations and backgrounds of people experiencing homelessness. This complexity is at times overwhelming for organizations who try to help. Especially since these organizations operate similar to businesses, they are prone to cost pressures and can, therefore, offer often little individual support. They do offer these services but not to the extent that it solves the problem sustainably… I think the inspiration that storytelling can spark is part of a solution. It might inspire others to think more deeply about complex problems and foster solution-oriented thinking at the root cause level.” Top photo: Hiding in Plain Sight filmmakers (L to R) Dawson Mofford, Katharina Saloman and Sarah Aly El Sayed