‘Sugar’ is an independent movie that tackles the issue of youth homelessness. The film follows Sugar, a young woman living homeless after her family’s death in a car crash. Set in Venice Beach, California, ‘Sugar’ offers insight into the rapid rise of homeless youth in America.

Plot Background:

After serving in the U.S. Navy, Director Mr. Rotimi Rainwater lived on the streets of Orlando for nearly a year. His experiences are the basis for ‘Sugar’. Mr. Rainwater’s story helps battle limited perceptions of why homelessness occurs. This is seen throughout his movie, as Sugar faces common challenges with peers who have taken different paths to the streets.

Movie Overview:

Sugar’s plight is sudden and dramatic, which perhaps shows how vulnerable each of us can be. 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 outreach efforts. In just a short time, her hopes seem a distant memory.

Youth Homelessness:

Homeless youth comprise the fastest growing segment of America’s street population, according to Homelessness Resource Center. This unsettling notion is complicated by several factors.

Overview of Challenges:

A generic view of the homeless issue often overlooks an underlying children’s issue. Meanwhile, social services may struggle to adapt with rapidly changing demographics.

Many homeless youth have distrust of social providers, owing to stints in foster care or juvenile corrections. A foster child who finds him/herself homeless after aging out of the system may be skeptical of outreach. With a limited history, there is scarce data to judge outreach results, as well.

Overview of Opportunities:

Effects of social issues on younger generations can rally support for change. This can increase progress for homelessness as a whole.

Rising numbers of street youth offer social providers incentive to overhaul services for the benefit of all. This includes focus on skills training and self-sufficiency, which prevents assistance from becoming a lifestyle.

Collaborative outreach that treats and identifies high risk factors can be effective. For instance, juveniles may receive help to find housing before release.

Snapshot of High Risk Factors: ‘Sugar’ depicts homeless youth who found the streets for various reasons. Runaways may be leaving physical or sexual abuse. Some families may reject their child’s sexual orientation or unplanned pregnancy.

Juveniles leaving the corrections system have limited job or housing options. Shortfalls in treatment for substance abuse or mental health may also raise risks for homelessness. These scenarios may all negatively affect trust for social services.

Raising Awareness:

Social Media and Film Festivals:

To overcome a low budget,Executive Producer Mr. Elliott Broidy heavily used social media and crowd funding.  The movie’s Facebook and YouTube pages raised awareness in ways that were not possible a short while ago. Money from crowd funding efforts provided meals for homeless youth across Los Angeles. ‘Sugar’ would also earn the ‘Film Heals’ Award at The Manhattan Film Festival in July, 2013.

Public Policy:

Cast and crew were invited to a movie screening before Congress in June of 2013. The event was a step towards giving homeless youth a voice in policymaking. This was parlayed into a joint resolution in support of National Runaway Prevention Month in November. Each event helped further awareness of youth homelessness.

Foundation for Debate and Change:

Screenings in cities with high populations of homeless youth brought the issues to where change is most needed. In doing so, the ‘Sugar’ team is hoping to offset assumptions that dampen public support. Locals and businesses often brand homeless youth as nuisances, without understanding how dynamic the issue is. ‘Sugar’ helps frame debates with a broader perspective.


Social issues generate various reactions. Despite initial gridlock, views of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ start a dialogue for change. This may be preferred to indifference and lack of emotional response.  Some issues are less recognized and need time to gain traction. The issue of youth homelessness has each of these elements.

Films such as ‘Sugar’ help draw support for issues that do not directly impact us.