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A documentary exploring Chicago's homeless communities and housing process...
A documentary exploring Chicago's homeless communities and housing process...
45 backers pledged $4,931 to help bring this project to life.
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Tent City is an effort to better understand the epidemic of homelessness, specifically within a community in Chicago. Each individual has a story that brought them where they are today, and I want to explore what brought the people living in tents on the side of a highway to this point in their life. 

The idea started with wanting to help one man near where I lived in Indianapolis in 2017, who eventually backed out, but lead me to discussing his story with my aunt at our (great) uncle's birthday party a few months later. 

Within a few days of that discussion, she called me and left this voicemail...

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When I called her back, she told me the city had just given those people notice that they had to clear their tents and belongings from the area within a few days. Without time to prepare questions or plan the story, I packed my gear and drove up to Chicago to stay at their house (you'll see a hotel in the budget, as they have since moved), and follow their church crew that was trying to rally support and media coverage.

After everyone left, I stayed around to interview a few people that lived there. I came away with the feeling that regardless of how those people got there, they needed help getting out. 

That is the purpose of this documentary. 

The plan in place is to use a pre-purchased flight to Indianapolis (not in budget since it is for separate reasons), rent a car and drive back to this tent community in Chicago. I want to see if I can find the people I interviewed a year ago, speak with the current tenants, and use the weeks beforehand to set up interviews with city officials and social workers. 

I will drive up to Chicago Sunday, 30 June, stay two nights and leave Tuesday afternoon, after completing interviews and collecting footage. 

I will use the footage and interviews to best tell their stories, and what Chicago is doing to help, how they are limited, and plans going forward. The editing process may take up to three months, with a plan to send it to a curated list of film festivals once complete. The more awareness we bring to this story, the better chance we have at helping these individuals find permanent housing. 

A few people I've spoken with have asked me why I am going to Chicago, when there are so many homeless people to help here in San Diego. The answer for that is two-fold... One, I feel like my work in Chicago is incomplete. I don't feel like I spent the time with those people for nothing, but feel like I've done nothing to help. Second, if I am able to help these people find permanent housing in Chicago, I I'd be thrilled to include San Diego, and other cities in the project when the time comes. 

I have set up a blog on my website for a weekly progress post, and an Instagram page for more updates and to help increase awareness about the project. Please email margaretnighthawk@gmail.com with any questions, offer encouragement or to help in any way. I look forward to hearing from everyone, and am beyond excited to help these people find homes! 

Risks and challenges

One thing we need to keep in mind is that some people may not want our help. That's okay. Our aim is to help the people we can. Maybe those apprehensive to ask for help before are more comfortable after we show them how we've helped others.

Another risk is that social workers and city officials may not be able to speak freely about the process, but instead have statements they are able to read. My hope is that we are able to find experienced workers in private and municipal organizations that are able to help shed light on the process, and what keeps so many people from finding and staying in a home. We want to talk to people who want to help, and learn what is standing in their way. If that leads us to talking to people who don't want to help, well, we'll sure speak with them, too.

There is a risk that with all of the frustration from the homeless people, that city workers and organizations feel that is taken out on them, so it important to keep an open view of the process while we aim to better understand it. I'm sure people who have dealt with this longer than I are working hard for solutions for individuals and on a large scale, so I want to make clear our goal is not to question their efforts, but rather understand them, in an effort to tell the whole story.

Setting the goal for "Permanent Housing," seems far fetched. I realize that. And there are hundreds of thousands of homeless, so one person with a camera making a documentary isn't going to provide a solution for all of the homeless people in Chicago. The real goal is to provide a solution for the people I've been in contact with, specifically within this tent community. There are several obstacles to solving this, beyond obvious financial reasons, so we have to start with first understanding why they're there, individually. A lot of these people are traumatized from something they've experienced, which has led to drug addiction and mental instability, making finding the truth of the matter, and a solution even more difficult.

Two more days of filming isn't enough. But the time I have to plan everything before is extremely valuable, to ensure I maximize my effort when I am there. The goal is to create a following behind the story that will allow me to further pursue the project and help more people.

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