Arts / Faith and Humanities / Society / Justice and Law

What to Do About Homelessness?

Written by Dean Forbes

March 14, 2018

Seattle skyline and moon at night

Image credit: JDMSCreations

SU provides moviegoers with guides for addressing homelessness.

Many moviegoers who see the award-wining film The Florida Project, a film about families living on the edge in budget motels near Disney World, are often overwhelmed with the feeling that they need to do something to help kids like its six-year-old star “Moonee.” To answer the what can we do?” question for viewers, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness worked with the film’s distributor, A24, the Seattle-based Housing Development Consortium and six other local partners to create two official advocacy pieces for the movie that are available to the public. They are:

  • An Action Guide that examines causes and solutions to family homelessness, child poverty and hunger, with a list of organizations working to solve the issues, and 15 things you can do to help.
  • A Discussion Guide that can be used to stimulate discussion with family, friends, colleagues, school and faith communities and more.

 The guides were unveiled recently at the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Los Angeles, during a keynote speech by the film’s director Sean Baker. Copies can be downloaded here.

Catherine Hinrichsen, director of the Project on Family Homelessness, and Seattle U students Katie Bradley (Strategic Communications/Public Affairs) and Madison Vucci (Digital Design) were the lead writers and content creators; A24 designed the guides. Seattle U staff members Hannah Hunthausen of the School of Theology and Ministry and Lindsay Ohab of the Institute for Public Service also contributed to the project along with alumna and former staffer Lisa Gustaveson.

The project also was made possible by the support of community partners including All Home King County, Building Changes, Campion Advocacy Fund, United Way of King County, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish.

“For those of us who work in housing and homelessness advocacy, we sometimes cringe when a new film comes out with homelessness or poverty at the center because it’s hard to capture the complexity and the humanity without resorting to stereotypes or creating saintly/devilish characters,” Hinrichsen says. “However, The Florida Project approaches the story through the eyes of the children. Like the main character Moonee we only see clues and glimpses of things going on—and going wrong—without understanding the full context, until things spiral out of control.”

The film is also brave in that the characters, including the kids, don’t always behave admirably, she says. 

“In my opinion, this is the best narrative film (non-documentary) about family homelessness in modern times and it is certainly among the most honored of them.”

The genesis for the guides began when A24 sought to host a screening of the film for housing providers in Seattle last October. The film and television company approached the Gates Foundation for support, which in turn reached out to the Project on Family Homelessness, which receives Gates Foundation funding, the Housing Development Consortium and Washington Low Income Housing Alliance to help promote the screening. Hinrichsen and colleagues discussed the film after viewing it and Gustaveson said, “It needs a discussion guide.”

Hinrichsen then approached A24 and offered to help plan an advocacy campaign to support the film, because during the screening director Baker said he wants to use the film for advocacy. The distributor agreed and things got underway—notably during the busy movie awards season—culminating in today’s announcement of the guides.

“The guides are beautiful, so evocative of the color and production design of the film, and the way they capture childhood joy, the emotional impact of showing caring for each other and the drama of serious life challenges,” says Hinrichsen.