Imagine being 11 years old and on the streets, wondering where your next meal is going to come from, defending yourself against other people trying to steal your few possessions, and moving every night to try to find safe shelter. Unfortunately, when many of us see homeless, even homeless youth, we simply keep going about our day. But for film producer, writer and director Rotimi Rainwater, he couldn’t just carry on as if it were business as usual. Lost in America, Rotimi’s documentary, tells the story of homeless youth in hopes of bringing about change.
According to Google there are somewhere between 48,000 and 2.8 million homeless youth, which is a very large range. As part of his movie, Rotimi traveled to DC to ask the nation’s leaders how many homeless youth there are in America. No one had a figure, only estimates. Maureen Blaha of National Runaway Safeline shared that there has never been a national study on the amount of homeless youth, which would help provide aide because there is no money for it.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36
Rotimi reflects on being homeless himself when he was a teen and how it motivated him to make Lost in America.
“When I was 19 I was homeless. It took a while but I got off the streets and I have spent the last 25 years working my way up in the film industry. But I always hid the fact that I had been on the streets. In America there is a stigma on being homeless as if somehow it was something you decided to do. Like any child that is watching the Disney channel is going to wake up and say, ‘Today, I want to eat out of a trash can.’ But that’s how we treat them. That’s why it took me 20 years to deal with the fact that I was once homeless.
In 2012, I made my first film ‘Sugar,’ that was loosely based on my experiences on the street. I went all over the country screening it for homeless youth organizations and everywhere I showed it, kids came up to me asking for help, advice or just wanting to talk to someone who had been there. As I traveled around, I realized the homeless youth problem was much bigger than I thought. I like many had assumed that this was an issue that our government was dealing with.”
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.” Psalm 91:1-6
There are many myths as to why youth are homeless. Some people believe that the youth are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Others think that they chose to be homeless and others feel that the homeless youth refuse to get help from all of the programs that are available to them. Whatever the myth, in Lost in America, Rotimi talks to the homeless youth and gets their story by helping to dispel many of the myths that the culture has come to believe. From a couple that lost their job and apartment, to a young lady that was molested by her father at a young age, he helps people to understand that no one chooses to be homeless.
Rotimi opens up about the experience of filming their stories and how it challenged him to tell his story.
“As a filmmaker, you’re not supposed to get close to the people you’re filming. You’re not supposed to be affected by this. But how can you not be affected watching a young mother grieve for her child or a mother grieving for her son she can’t help…It was never my intention to tell my story, but being with these kids who were brave enough to tell their stories, I would be a hypocrite not to tell mine. It’s time to go home.”
To watch Rotimi and the youth share their stories, check out www.lostamericafilm.com for updates of when Lost in America is coming to a theater near you.
To read the Rotimi’s Story in Risen Magazine click here.
Feed the homeless. You don’t have to feed every single one, but as God guides you reach out to those you see. Carry granola bars, water or gift cards to a local restaurant to give to those that you see. If you have leftovers after you eat, share them with a homeless person. There are many organizations that you can also donate to that are feeding the homeless on a daily basis.
Serve the homeless. There are many organizations that you can volunteer with that serve the homeless. From local churches to national organizations, there are many that are already serving homeless.
Pray for the homeless. Whether it is youth, adults or veterans, there are homeless people in every city. Pray that their needs would be met – food, shelter, and safety. Pray for our nation’s leaders that they would be diligent in supporting programs that would help this population. Ask God to reveal Himself to them and that if they don’t have a relationship with Him that they would chose to follow Him.