“Sugar,” Change and Hope for Homeless Youth

Sugar Film Movie Poster

Sadly, many children born with cleft are often abandoned by one or both parents. Children like Mili, left on a train in India are unfortunately not an anomaly.

While this story is true for a number of Smile Train patients in the developing world, the issue of abandonment and homeless can also affect children in the United States as well.

The upcoming film Sugar offers a snapshot of youth homelessness. The film follows Sugar, a young woman living on the streets of Venice Beach after her family is killed in a car accident.

She encounters an unfamiliar world that threatens the bright future of just a short time ago. Sugar’s plight is sudden and dramatic, which shows how vulnerable youth can be to homelessness.

Throughout the film, Sugar refuses social services she does not understand or trust. Her decisions are heavily influenced by her homeless peers, who have a deep distrust of support systems. The young adults face common challenges together, despite their different paths to homeless life.

As a new phenomenon, homeless youth pose several opportunities and challenges to outreach efforts. Homeless youth are the fastest growing segment of America’s street population, according to Homelessness Resource Center.  Generic views of homelessness may overlook this aspect.

Early intervention helps prevent long term dependence on social services. Before street life becomes a lifestyle, homeless youth can see they have the capacity to be self-sufficient.

Youth subjects present a chance for providers to adapt services to changing demographics. An integrated approach that identifies and treats high risk factors should be adopted. High risk factors include: youth released from juvenile corrections, mentally ill youth, and foster children who age out of the system.

Such experiences create distrust for social services that negatively affects outreach. Social providers who collaborate can offset limited budgets to prevent youth homelessness before it occurs.

With a short history, there is little data to judge the success of social programs, but much like making cleft surgery available to children in need, a sustainable approach to social services is needed.

Homeless youth face increased physical and mental risks. These range from mental illness, drug abuse, STDs and violence. Street youth are far more likely to be in the juvenile justice system. Being cited for loitering or trespassing may limit employment or school prospects, which affects self-sufficiency.

Shenae Grimes (90210), Marshall Allman and a young cast bring star power that younger audiences can relate to. Many viewers come to realize they are not altogether different from the young characters.

Cast and crew were invited to a film screening before Congress in June, 2013. The screening was a step towards giving homeless youth a voice in public policy. Sugar also earned the Film Heals Award at The Manhattan Film Festival in July 2013.

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Producer, Sugar: Rotimi Rainwater 
Executive Producer, Sugar: Elliott Broidy

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