SEEDS OF HOPE, TOOLS FOR CHANGE is a 18-minute documentary on homelessness and the shelters, servicesand skills training provided by Episcopal Community Services (ECS), the Bay Area’s largest provider of shelter and services for homeless men and women. Hired to produce and direct this video for ECS, filmmaker Brown found the experience especially gratifying because of the remarkable success stories he was able to portray of formerly homeless people who had turned their lives around.
The video’s subjects ranged from Rt. Rev. William E. Swing, the Bishop of Grace Cathedral (where ECS began its first homeless shelter, featured on the cover of the New York Times), to the staff and board of ECS to former and current residents of the Episcopal Sanctuary, a shelter for the homeless. Other ECS programs covered in the video include the Canon Kip Community House, offering permanent housing for the homeless and a complete program for seniors, and the Skills Center at Canon Kip, a nationally-acclaimed program for educating homeless adults and preparing them for the job market.
Several of the subjects in the video were homeless for years before finding refuge at the Sanctuary and then seizing the opportunity to learn computer or other job skills at the Skills Center. With the supportive services and training provided by Episcopal Community Services, all of these formerly homeless people have found good jobs and their own apartments. The high point of the ECS year, and the climax of the video, is the joyous celebration of graduation at the Skills Center where most of the graduates receive the first diploma of their lives. One graduate remarks gratefully that “I not only have a place to stay but now I have a future as well”.
Another graduate reflected on his life change: “This means a lot, being able to have my own apartment. It gives me the encouragement to get up every day and go out into the world and become a positive member of society instead of getting up thinking, ‘I hope my sleeping bag doesn’t disappear.’ ” Brown has worked on other homeless projects including Jerry Jones’ documentary Homeless, Not Helpless. But he commented that he had never fully appreciated the depth of the homeless problem, nor had he related to homeless people before on a fully personal and visceral level. “It was a revelation to meet residents of the Sanctuary who were Ph.D. psychologists and other professionals who could be friends, neighbors or certainly peers. Brown commented. “It’s sobering to realize again how many of us are just one paycheck away from the street. I shared the subject’s gratitude for a shelter offering supportive services and job training like Episcopal Community Services.”
The strongest testament to the successful work of Episcopal Community Services is the individuals portrayed in the video who–with a little help, a few seeds of hope and some tools for change–have been able to break the cycle of homelessness. Brown believes the video offers an inspirational portrait of empowerment in hard times. With a bit of support, caring and training, people can truly revolutionize their own lives. In the words of a recent Skills Center graduate, “if you plant a seed, you will see it grow. It’s the best return that I know of. It’s the human spirit.”
Seeds of Hope/ Tools of Change was co-produced by Erick Swenson and narrated by Rita Williams of KTVU, Channel 2. Sound recordist was Steve Zukerman.