Documentary Film Captures Homelessness First-hand

The documentary film Give Me A Shot of Anything provides a first-hand account of homelessness to raise awareness about poverty, homelessness, and health care.

Everyone has a story.

When Jeff Schwartz set out to document the work of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) street team and Barbara McInnis House, he did not have a particular goal or political agenda in mind. He simply knew that the program was doing important work, and communities needed to be able to witness not only the program’s work, but also the stories of those they serve.

Co-founded in 1985 by Dr. Jim O’Connell, BHCHP provides comprehensive medical care to those who are experiencing homelessness throughout Boston, Massachusetts. BHCHP cares for more than 11,000 patients each year, working in partnership with local hospitals and shelters to offer medical services in dozens of locations throughout the city. Barbara McInnis House, a 104-bed medical respite program, is BHCHP’s response to the need for a place where those who are experiencing homelessness can go to recover from surgery or serious illnesses.

From Short Promo to Powerful Film

In 2009, BHCHP was awarded the Mutual of America Community Partnership Award, which included the opportunity to create a short promotional video about their organization. Jeff Schwartz, who has been creating these videos for award winners for the past 14 years, worked with Dr. O’Connell and the BHCHP team. The video shadowed the programs’ doctors, nurses, and outreach workers as they walked the streets of Boston, engaging with and caring for those who are the most vulnerable.

“It became more of a personal experience,” Schwartz says of the time spent shooting for the film. “I came to befriend [the patients] and realized that these were real people with real problems. They were just people who fell on a bad situation. They could have been me or one of my friends.” Following the completion of the promotional video, Schwartz approached BHCHP about creating a full-length documentary. “I asked them because I wanted to make it. I felt the world should see what they’re doing.”

Schwartz returned to Boston a year after the original shooting and continued gathering footage for the film. “Dr. O’Connell’s relationship with the patients was crucial to being able to film their interactions,” says Schwartz. “We would stay back and let him approach them first. He would mention that we were filming to show the work of the outreach team. Once they knew we weren’t the news and didn’t have bad intentions, they were generally very open to us filming.” Schwartz found a similar reception during his time shooting at Barbara McInnis House. “At first, people were very reluctant to be interviewed. But once we were there for a few days, they became comfortable with us and soon there was a line of people waiting to be on camera,” says Schwartz. “They came on camera and just began revealing themselves. I think it was almost therapeutic for them to tell their story and know that someone was listening, and that maybe the film would eventually help somebody else.”

The end result was Give Me A Shot of Anything: House Calls to the Homeless, a 71-minute documentary. The title came from a song Schwartz had written in college for his communications class which included the lyrics, “Just give me a shot of anything to take away these blues.” Schwartz realized that the lyrics applied well to the people whose stories were featured in the documentary. “It can mean several things,” says Schwartz. “Give me a shot of medicine to help heal or prevent an illness or a shot of a substance that will take me out of my misery and put me into another world. Or give me a shot, a chance, to show that I can do something.” The documentary features Susan, a patient at Barbara McInnis House, singing lines from the song Schwartz wrote in college.

Homelessness Can Happen to Anyone

Everyone has a story. Give Me A Shot of Anything provides first-hand accounts of the many causes of homelessness. We hear from a woman who lost her home to a fire, a man who became addicted to opiates while recovering from an accident, and a man who suddenly became blind and lost his job. Homelessness can happen to anyone.

Embedded within these stories are stories of hope and survival. We see the unique bond formed by an older man and a younger man, both diagnosed with a terminal illness. We witness the incredible spirit of those who have chosen not to give up, who are sustained by the care provided by BHCHP and the relationships and communities they have formed amongst each other.

“If you see the film, you have to realize that homelessness could happen to anybody. I wanted everyone to see that, to get a glimpse of the lives of people who live on the street, and to see the work that the team was doing to care for these people,” says Schwartz. Ultimately, Schwartz hopes that the film sparks conversations and debates about issues of poverty, homelessness, and health care in America.

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Amy SooHoo
Last Updated: 04/19/2016