Streetwise Revisited - 30 Years of Impactful Storytelling

Erin holding her Horsey, a gift from Mary Ellen Mark, at a theme park in the early 1980s. Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark.

Erin holding her Horsey, a gift from Mary Ellen Mark, at a theme park in the early 1980s. Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark.

Streetwise,” a documentary filmed more than 30 years ago, is about a group of young people living on the streets in downtown Seattle. The footage shows them trying to survive any way possible.

Erin was one of the young girls featured in “Streetwise.” Erin’s mom struggled with alcohol addiction, and Erin left home at age 13. Her street name was Tiny. Back then, Tiny was a teenage girl who dreamt about owning a farm and a horse. Her innocent aspirations were a shocking contrast to her reality; she was raped her second week on the street, and described “pulling dates” in which adults paid her $25 for a hand job.

Erin is now in her mid-forties, a mom of 10 kids whose life story was recently made into another documentary, “Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell.”

I watched “Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell,” with a full house of engaged people and Erin herself. It was screened as part of the Streetwise Revisited photography exhibition and public programs presented by the Seattle Public Library. When Erin faced the audience during Q & A after the screening, it struck me that she seemed introverted. That made it all the more remarkable that she had been willing to have her life story recorded, to share how she lives and what she has been through. It’s impactful. Her story shows an imperfect world, and has motivated many people to help. This is the power of storytelling.

Homelessness is a state of emergency in Seattle and King County, and now it’s as important as ever to build understanding. The problem is complicated. It is as big as a dysfunctional education system and institutional racism, and as small as how a person achieves his or her dreams. It’s important to look at the bigger picture when addressing a social problem; otherwise, victim blaming can easily happen.

Erin’s story helps us understand the many issues surrounding homelessness, including the reality that it’s hard to navigate life without stable housing, a caring family, or strong social support.


Streetwise 裡面出現的Erin, 後來她的故事變成另一支紀錄片“Tiny, The Life of Erin Blackwell”。她現在40多歲,是10個孩子的媽媽。 Erin的媽媽酒精成隱,所以她13歲就離開家。街頭的朋友暱稱她Tiny,弱小的身影與現實生活有無法匹敵,她在街上生活的第二個禮拜就被強暴。後來小小的身軀,細細的頭髮,甜甜的微笑讓她變成炙手可熱的貨品,那時候,大人付她25元美金交換一次手交。

我在中央圖書館看了“Tiny, The Life of Erin Blackwell”,Erin當時也坐在觀眾席。 面對觀眾,她內向而且不那麼侃侃而談, 但是她願意挺身而出,向這個世界展示她是誰,她的人生以及她的經歷。她的故事呈現一個不完美的世界,卻使越來越多的人願意伸出援手,不想再忽視,這就是故事分享的力量。圖片或電影只是藝術的一種形式,但它背後的故事和見解能真正創造社會運動和正面的改變。