Documentary review: Street Reporter – homelessness by those living it

October 20, 2022

Aspiring photojournalist, Sheila White discovers the power of her own voice while struggling to survive homelessness

Care leaver Kerrie Portman describes powerful new documentary that brought her to tears

“Reporting is good but it’s not enough. I want someone that’s not homeless to actually hear my stories, see my story and feel my story and then actually be an activist. I want you to see someone… laying there on the street, hungry, sleeping on the concrete. But I want you to also go to your council members and say, look, this is unethical.” – Sheila White, Street Reporter

Street Reporter is a short documentary following Sheila White, a 59-year-old homeless photojournalist in America. White works at Street Sense newspaper whilst studying at a local university. Founded back in 2003 Street Sense works with people who have experienced homelessness to raise awareness of their issues whilst empowering individuals through experience, skill building and support.

If I could summarise Street Reporter in one word, it would be ‘contrast’: the contrast of the tents next to clean fancy offices, the wealthy-looking people going to work against those who are forced to sleep on the streets; wealth against poverty: the contrast of the photographs and live action, hope in a hopeless situation: the contrast of ending the short documentary with our main character finally having a home.

Street Reporter is character-driven and touches on both the broad topic of homelessness as well as the plurality and depth of issues within that. The documentary focuses on the impact of Covid-19, when people feel safer on the street than in shelters and when the council deploys ‘Clean Up’ crews to remove Tent City, instead of helping these vulnerable people. The documentary described this as being “evicted from the street.”

Watching this short documentary brought me to tears to see how similar these stories were to my own

The more covert issues – the barriers to the lives of homeless people and what contributed to their situation – are also highlighted: not knowing where help like shelters are, encampments, stigma in the media, childhood issues, being in foster care or children’s homes, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, housing issues, like floods leading to homelessness.

Sheila’s own story is examined, struggling to complete her homework in a shelter, the additional vulnerabilities of being female and on the street, having to give up pets, the normalisation of seeing traumatising things, like people dying and an attachment to a tent because… at least it’s your own.

I would hope that people watching Street Reporter – who haven’t experienced homelessness themselves– realise most are there by accident, through lack of a support system. Many people are a couple of pay-checks away from homelessness themselves and need to empathise, instead of demonise those less lucky.

Sheila speaks about wanting to tell people’s stories and how they became homeless. “Somebody that wasn’t homeless can’t tell me how it feels.” As a reporter, she speaks at one point about hearing how similar other people’s stories are to her own.

I myself have been homeless three times in my life and twice within the past year. I found therapy and healing in writing, researching and campaigning about homelessness, particularly Care Leaver homelessness. Watching this short documentary brought me to tears to see how similar these stories were to my own, although they’re in America and I’m in the UK.

The intimacy and the smallest of details, which other people just don’t understand, are normal for us. There is the heartbreak and ruthlessness of the state. The danger of existing, just existing, when we want to finally live. And there are the simple joys of finally having a bed and being able to hang your art on the wall, as Sheila does with her photographs at the end of the documentary.

Laura Waters Hinson, film professor at American University, directed Street Reporter. She has previously directed Moving Violation, Mama Rwanda, Many Beautiful Things, Dog Days and As We Forgive. Hinson’s website describes her work as elevating “the themes of empathy, resilience, and reconciliation.”

This eye-opening documentary short has received various awards already winning Best Short Documentary at the Annapolis Film Festival, Audience Choice Award at the Austin Film Festival, and the Audience Choice Award at IndyShort Film Festival.

Street Reporter can be seen at the United Nations Association Film Festival on October 20th to 30th and hopefully soon, given its success and acclaim, at festivals this side of the Atlantic.

Kerrie is an autistic care leaver, her love of writing originating from the desire to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in social care. This led to her main writing accomplishments, including two published articles in The Guardian and co-authoring a chapter of the book: ‘COVID-19 and Co-production in Health and Social Care Research, Policy, and Practice, Volume 2: Co-production Methods and Working Together at a Distance’. As Kerrie’s love of writing grew, it expanded to most topics and she has also guest-written articles for Ambitious About Autism, National Student Pride, iReader, Heroica, Wearewriteous and North Hertfordshire Pride.

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