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.


一支30年前的紀錄片Streetwise,關於一群年輕人在西雅圖市中心街頭流浪的故事。其實不是什麼娛樂性的故事,而是直接影像訴說這群青年遊遊晃晃,用最直覺的方式交易換生存。

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。

Erin的故事讓我們理解,無家可歸現象背後的複雜面向。為什麼這群人要以這種方式生存?為什麼人無家可歸?問題很複雜,大自國家教育體制是否完善,小至個人目標夢想能否實踐,在在都影響人如何生,如何死。看待問題時要看很多面向,不然一不小心就把矛頭指向社會底層的受害者,怪他們怎麼亂做決定,怪他們自甘墮落。

13歲的我,每天背著厚重的書包,聽著或假裝聽著師長的諄諄教誨,回家抱怨媽媽沒有準時來接我們放學。即使發生的事情都很小,卻以為天要塌下來了一樣,不知道其實是爸爸媽媽把高高重重的天撐了起來。很幸福,家庭沒有棄我們不顧,很幸福,我們對生命的疑惑都被引導到能自己探索的方向。

長大了之後,才慢慢察覺原來有些人活得不一樣。透過對社會的觀察,透過別人的眼界,我才知道我的世界很小,我的經驗不代表這個現實世界的模樣,只有多看多聽多用心才能不做自大的人。