A Documentary about Homeless Youth

Survival sex, abuse, addiction, crime, trafficking: These are some of the harsh realities that kids may experience when they don’t have a place to call home. Youth homelessness is a growing problem across the country. There aren’t enough shelter beds for the increasing number of homeless youth to sleep in. These young people can’t go home because their families are violent, abusive, can’t support them, or simply don’t want them. Staying in school often takes a back seat to the challenges of daily survival. Without intervention, many of these young people are destined to become homeless adults: a grim statistic tells us that those who don’t find a way out by the time they’re twenty four will still be homeless at forty eight.

But the story doesn’t need to end there.


From the outside, Full Cycle looks like any other hipster bike shop in the Twin Cities. But this South Minneapolis cyclery is more than just a place to get a new ride or fix your old one. Combining a passion for bicycles with an even greater passion for changing lives, Full Cycle is a national model for a novel approach to addressing the problem of youth homelessness.

Conceived of and led by youth outreach worker and bike enthusiast Matt Tennant, Full Cycle is a nonprofit business that supports youth entrepreneurship by offering hands-on paid internships to homeless youth. For six months, several days a week, a group of young people comes off the streets and into the bike shop to learn bicycle mechanics and basic business skills from Matt and his staff of five.

The youth gain knowledge, practical job experience, responsibility, self-esteem, and transportation in the form of a free bike. Over the weeks and months of working side-by-side, patching tires and truing wheels together, they form strong relationships with the Full Cycle staff. The respect and trust that develop, coupled with the fact that they’re in a cool bike shop, not a clinical social worker’s office, make it easy for them to share their lives with the staff, who become mentors, role models, and for many of the youth, family.

By meeting kids where they are and giving them the skills, support, and inspiration they need to pull themselves out of homelessness, Full Cycle has emerged as a beacon of hope in the fight to end youth homelessness.


About the Project

Street Level is a twenty minute documentary film centered around the Full Cycle bike shop, featuring powerful stories of neglect and survival told by the homeless youth who have interned there. Both painful and inspiring, the film illuminates the struggles these young people face, and shows how a caring bike-lover’s bold experiment in social entrepreneurship is helping homeless youth work toward self-sufficiency.

Although Street Level focuses on one group of young people in one bike shop in South Minneapolis, the compelling story it tells will resonate in communities everywhere.

The filmmakers’ goal is to raise public awareness about the growing problem of youth homelessness in America and to motivate people around the country to take action to address it.


Distribution Plans and Social Impact

We believe that Street Level will have a significant impact and a long life. Twin Cities Public Television plans to air the film across Minnesota. The documentary will also be submitted to the national PBS programs Independent Lens and POV, as well as film festivals around the world.

On the community level, we will offer the film to agencies, organizations, and individuals working to combat homelessness to use as a powerful advocacy tool. Showcasing an innovative program that provides training and builds self-esteem for at-risk homeless youth, Street Level can introduce communities across the United States to a replicable program model to emulate, as well as spark future social service innovation.

We also hope Street Level will:

Motivate decision makers, legislators, corrections and criminal justice professionals, child service and public safety administrators to call for and implement programs and housing opportunities for homeless youth.

Help raise community awareness about the lack of available shelter beds for youth in metro areas in order to increase their numbers.

Inspire municipalities to create more effective transition plans for homeless youth coming out of foster care programs and juvenile detention systems.

In addition, the documentary website will inform individual viewers about ways they can help by making charitable contributions, volunteering, calling on legislators to create programs and policies that help homeless youth, and sharing their own stories.

About the Filmmaking Team

The Street Level team is a powerhouse of seasoned independent filmmakers, television producers, writers, photographers and production studio affiliates. Among us are Emily Goldberg, a McKnight filmmaking fellow, Michael Smith, the producer of the PBS series, Make TV, and Kelly Kinunen, the creator of Need magazine. Our work has garnered multiple Emmy awards and been seen in many diverse film festivals from the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam to the Museum of Modern Art.

This project was developed in association with StreetWorks, a collaborative of ten Twin Cities youth-serving, nonprofit agencies that provide street-based outreach to homeless and at-risk youth. The collaborative includes: Lutheran Social Service of MN, Pillsbury House, the Ain Dah Yung Center, Safezone, Oasis for Youth, The Salvation Army, The Link, Move Fwd, The Bridge for Youth, and Youth Link.

Our fiscal sponsor is FilmNorth, which also provided technical and storytelling training to some of the Full Cycle interns who filmed their own stories.

What unites us all is the belief that the dire state of youth homelessness in the Twin Cities and around the country is unacceptable. By making Street Level, we hope to be a strong catalyst for improving the lives of these young people.