On Sunday, March 11, 2018, at the Cinema Village on 12 East 12th Street in NYC, a screening was held for the documentary, entitled "The Homeless Chorus Speaks. After the screening, there was a talkback featuring the filmmaker, Susan Polis Schutz, and The Voices of Our City Choir Founder and Musician Steph Johnson.
"The Homeless Chorus Speaks" is a compelling documentary that creatively depicts a critical and timely social issue: people living without support and shelter. Using a unique community choir ( Voices of Our City Choir) as a vehicle to tell the stories of people suffering with homelessness, the film -- like all of Susan Polis Schutz’s documentaries -- effectively puts a human face on a crucial problem and makes it strikingly clear just how easily someone can end up living on the streets.
According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the annual national count of homeless people in the U.S. has risen for the first time since 2010. In an uplifting and timely documentary airing on PBS this spring, critically-acclaimed documentarian Susan Polis Schutz explores the homeless epidemic through the eyes of a performance choir in The Homeless Chorus Speaks (IronZeal Films, March 2018).
The Voices of Our City Choir was founded by Steph Johnson and Nina Leilani Deering for people experiencing homelessness and those who support the cause. Their mission is to bring the community together so that each member of society has the opportunity to have their voice heard and celebrated. The Chorus also creates a space for family, and in The Homeless Chorus Speaks, it’s shown that even suicides have been thwarted because of the friendships that have been formed through the chorus.
Schutz interviews 14 members of the Voices of Our City Choir as they open up and tell their stories, leaving viewers with the sense that anyone could be one step away from becoming homeless. One woman shares her story about going blind, which forced her to quit her job and live off only $900 a month from disability—leaving her without options to afford housing. A young woman shares her story about her mother dying from a drug overdose at 23 and suffering from physical abuse by her father. This stripped her away of family safety or security. From people battling addictions to people who are in need of attentive medical care, the film shows that homeless people are just like anyone else.
The film kindly says, “Tell me your story,” in a way that prompts interviewees to discuss their backgrounds, the inhumanity of homelessness, their hopes and dreams, and how they got there.
In December 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicated in a report that there are 554,000 homeless people across the country. Of that total, 193,000 people had no access to nightly shelter and instead were staying in vehicles, tents, the streets and other places considered uninhabitable.
“Homelessness is an inhumane world problem,” says Schutz. “This film is meant to strip away at the judgment and avoidance most people with homes have when it comes to the topic of homelessness. It could happen to you, it could happen to anyone. So what are you going to do to help?”
The Homeless Chorus Speaks will be screened in LA and NYC theaters March 9-15, San Diego March 28th and air in various cities on PBS from March 20 – May 2018.