Youth Forward scholarship summer 2016 – Growing Up With the Homeless

Name: Michelle Eungie Seo
From: Boston , MA
Grade: Senior
School: Boston University
Votes: 0

Michelle Seo

Growing Up with the Homeless

It was a sunny spring day in Sacramento. I was walking down the streets in downtown with my mom on
our way to a restaurant when I noticed people sitting at the side of
the streets. As we were passing, one of them greeted me. The man had
a big cart next to him filled with blankets and clothing. As a
seven-year-old child, I was shocked at his dirty and unkempt
appearance and the strong odor of urine coming from him. After the
greeting, the next thing he said was “could you spare a quarter?”
My mom told me to ignore him and explained that he was a homeless
person living on the streets. She stated that homeless people were
lazy and dangerous and ended up on the streets because they did not
go to school or work.
I
held my mom’s view on homelessness as my own until
my
grandfather came to my class for the annual grandparent’s day event
a year later.

My grandfather described his career as a social worker
and
talked about assisting
the homeless people to my class. He emphasized that these people were
not lazy or dangerous. In fact, about 25% of the homeless people were
the U.S. military veterans not getting sufficient treatments for
mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I
started to accompany my grandfather to various events to distribute
food and presents to homeless people.
After
several years of volunteering, however,
I
realized
that I was only
providing temporary
relief. I
began to
contemplate other ways to help.

When I was assigned to create a documentary for a class project this spring, I
decided to use this opportunity to inform others about homeless
people. I focused on youth homelessness because as a youth myself, I
could better connect with them and provide a real perspective.
I
interviewed the Sacramento Vice Mayor Jay Schenirer and local social
workers, and also visited a school specifically for homeless youth.
When I arrived at the school, I saw hundreds of students carrying a
cart overfilled with their belongings and yelling at one another. The
director’s office was busy with police officers inspecting an
incident that occurred earlier that day.

It was shocking to see people my age living the harsh homeless life.
The visit motivated me even more to inform others about homeless
youth.

The final version of the documentary was only seven minutes long but took five months to
complete. It showed the day to day life of homeless youth and
featured various analysis and data to emphasize the growing issue of
the local youth homelessness. The documentary was entered into a
national C-SPAN contest and placed third in the West region. When it
was uploaded on YouTube for wider audience, people messaged me saying
that they realized for the first time the seriousness of the youth
homelessness. The whole experience reinforced my belief that videos
could be a powerful tool to inform and educate.


My grandfather helped me see the reality of people living on the streets and opened my eyes to their
sufferings. The last ten years have transformed me from a young girl
with a biased view on homelessness into a socially active and caring
person. Creating a documentary on homeless youths has inspired me to
develop my own artistic eye to capture the human story. I would like
to use my experience and education to let others know about the
struggles of homeless people who are disenfranchised from the society
and often disconnected from human relationships. When more people
care about homeless people, a more effective and permanent relief
system could be established.


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