Screen Survivor Stories: Summary of American Street Kid

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American Street Kid is a documentary that follows director Michael Leoni onto the streets of Los Angeles to expose the truth about youth homelessness in the US. We follow him over months as he develops relationships with these young people and draws back a curtain on their lives. But this is not just a story about LA. This is happening across the US and is one of the highest risk factors for human trafficking for young people.

We follow multiple storylines as Leoni gets closer to the youth. Bublez, Kiki, Ryan, Nick, and many more navigate how to find a safe place to sleep, find food and drugs, and meet their daily needs in this community they built. Each of the youth shares the events that led them to homelessness. As they each share, recurring themes pop up in their stories. Some talk about the mental health and substance abuse their parents faced and the trauma they endured as a result. We hear about running away from dangerous foster care situations or being kicked out because their parents found out they were gay. Some even began living on the streets as young as 14 years old.

Leoni takes a particular interest in some of the youth and tries to get them help. He calls youth drop-in centers, shelters, and transitional housing programs. But he runs into the same scenarios over and over: there are no beds and no other options. Leoni, frustrated that he can’t get help from the very places intended to be life-saving resources, ends up bringing some of the kids home to stay at his house. The youth thrive for a time, but they struggle long-term due to the trauma they experienced in their short lives.

This film is a great example of what human trafficking prevention should look like for youth. We need a stronger social safety net that includes more access to mental health and substance use treatment. We need to reform our foster care system because, right now, many youths tell us the streets are a safer choice. We need to address the discrimination and have strong outreach programs that are accessible to LGBTIQ2S+ youth. We need more services designed for them – so they stay and get the support they need. We need to understand the role that trauma plays in each young person’s healing journey and plan for that.

Discussion Questions

  1. The director asked many kids about their past. What were some of the themes you heard in their stories?
  2. How do you think these stories relate to human trafficking? 
  3. What were some of these kids’ challenges when trying to get off the street?
  4. During a conversation between Bublez and the film’s director, Michael, Bublez asks, “What if you were stuck out here? What would you do?” How would you answer this question?