They are invisible... adrift... searching for a surer sense of self, family and of safety. KUED-Channel 7 takes you inside a unique, human story in a powerful local documentary entitled "Outside."
Independently produced and directed by Natalie Avery, who subsequently joined the staff of KUED, the documentary follows four gay homeless youth as they face the challenging realities of daily homeless life on the street in one of the nation's most socially conservative states - Utah.
These young men and women invite us into their world for three years and provide us with sharply divergent personal stories and reasons for being adrift and homeless. The result is a gritty glimpse into a world largely invisible to the general population. The film also explores the conflicted emotions and involvement of parents, family figures and adult mentors who drift in and out of the lives of the homeless youth. "Outside" captures the intimate stories, told by the subjects themselves, bringing to light how they survive and what brought them out of their homes and onto the street.
The issue of homelessness has been on the periphery of American public awareness for more than two decades. Today, numerous institutions serve the ever-increasing number of homeless individuals and families. Within that population, the number of homeless youth ages 18-23 is currently at 1.4 million -- and is rising steadily. Regrettably, this younger segment is frequently overlooked.
A significant number are the children of homeless adults, but many are on the streets because they aged out of foster care, lost adult support, were kicked out of their homes for being gay, or ran away from abusive situations. Enlightened groups who serve this demographic coined the term "throwaway" youth. Of the approximately 600 "throwaway" youth in Salt Lake City, 25-40 percent identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning). This statistic parallels the rest of the nation.
Not only are LGBTQ youth significantly over-represented among the homeless population, but also an increasing number now live on the streets, "couch surf" with friends, or squat in abandoned buildings. Some have jobs, others pan handle or prostitute their bodies online or on street corners. Further, national studies have identified some alarming trends among the homeless LGBTQ population:
- Suicide is the leading cause of death.
- 70 percent have reported being victimized in shelters because of their orientation. More than half report feeling safer on the streets.
- AIDS/HIV prevalence is 2-10 times higher than the rates reported for other adolescents in the U.S.
- Nearly half of gay and bisexual homeless youth support themselves through prostitution.
- LGBTQ homeless youth are eight times more likely to use crack and crystal meth.
Grass-roots organizations in Salt Lake City struggle to assist these youth, fighting the limitations of shoestring budgets. Avery worked with organizations such as the Homeless Youth Resource Center, Utah Pride Center and Wasatch Homeless Healthcare to identify the young men and women profiled in the film.
Avery began working on the documentary five years ago as a graduate student. During production, Avery and her crew filmed more than 200 hours of footage, while following each subject for up to three years. "Due to the transient nature of this population, I am proud of the effort we made to track these challenged young lives for such an extended period of time. I am grateful to each of them for their continued participation in the project," Avery said.
"Outside" carries a TV-MA rating, due to the frank discussion of sexual orientation and the depiction and discussion of drug use. Viewer discretion is advised.