How 15 youth in Brampton, Ont., are telling the stories of 5 homeless seniors

A group of 15 young filmmakers in Brampton, Ont., teamed up and produced something they have never done before — a set of films that challenged their perceptions of homelessness and raised awareness about its effects on seniors in their community.

Reel Youth handed group aged 15 to 24 cameras to create short docs about the older generation

Joshua Boxill, second from right, and Danielle Pilloud, far right, directed a short documentary through the Reel Youth program about Kendal Binskin, centre, who has been living on the streets for 35 years. (Submitted by Reel Youth)

Danielle Pilloud, 15,  whose family couch surfed when they lost their home a few years ago, is among a group of young filmmakers in Brampton, Ont., producing a set of films featuring the lives of five homeless seniors — something the aspiring documentarians have never done before. 

"I wanted to understand more how someone who had it worse than I did, how they feel," she said. 

Pilloud's family had until recently stayed at a friend's house while they got back on their feet after her mother was laid off.

"It was difficult because you don't have anything, so I know a bit about what that's like," she said, noting this experience challenged her perceptions about Brampton's aging homeless population.   

Young filmmakers, homeless seniors form unlikely bond

6 years ago
Duration 8:52
Fifteen aspiring young filmmakers from Brampton, Ont., formed an unlikely bond with a group of homeless seniors in their community. They were trying something they’d never done before: making films to spread awareness about homelessness. Over seven days, seniors who experienced homeless from time to time or are currently living on the streets, opened up to the group of filmmakers, shared their personal stories, and offered their wisdom. Together, they created a special bond between generations

The five short documentaries, shot over one week by a total of 15 student filmmakers, provide a glimpse into the lives of seniors who have experienced homelessness or are currently living on the streets.

I got to actually go in and talk with people that were homeless and see what their lives are like.- Joshua Boxill

In one-on-one interviews, the seniors opened up to youth behind the camera about their personal stories and offered up tidbits of wisdom. Together they created a special bond that transcends generations, according to organizers.   

This was the first time that Reel Youth offered an intergenerational program focusing on homelessness. The non-profit organization that runs animation and film programs for youth worldwide has been touring across Canada for over a  decade.

Mark Vonesch says this is the first time Reel Youth has offered an intergenerational program focusing on homelessness. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

Mark Vonesch, director and co-founder of Reel Youth, explains that the new program not only teaches youth the basics of videography and post-production editing, it also fosters their leadership skills and encourages budding filmmakers to enact positive change within their communities.   

"We use filmmaking as a catalyst for connecting youth to their power — having them explore their abilities to be leaders and to work with others, and to tell stories that are going to have an impact in the world," he said in an interview with CBC's The National.

Joshua Boxill, 15, who claims he "didn't know anyone that has been homeless" before joining the program, says working with Kendal Binskin, who has been homeless several times during the last 35 years, changed his perspective on how they're treated.

"[Homeless people] need more help and that's what I really want to convey with the film."

Joshua Boxill, 15, is hopeful the short documentary he helped direct about Kendal Binskin conveys that homeless people 'need more help' because there aren't enough supports for them. (Submitted by Reel Youth)

Binskin, 50, talks about this struggle in the documentary. He has lost his job several times over the last 35 years, an experience that sometimes forced him back onto the street for survival. 

When he walked into St. Michael's Hospital seeking treatment for pneumonia, Binskin says he was confronted by people's negative perceptions about homelessness. 

"I remember the nurse telling me, 'You know what your problem is, you need to get yourself off the street,'" he recalls.

"She was telling me this like it was my fault, telling me like I didn't want to get off the street. I did — I just didn't know how."       

According to United Way, 14 per cent of the population in Peel Region, which includes, Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga — close to 190,000 people — are on the brink of becoming homeless. 

"Reel Youth brought my attention to this," said Boxill. "I got to actually go in and talk with people that were homeless and see what their lives are like because generally when you're walking on the street you don't just stop and start a conversation with a homeless person."​

Kendal Binskin says he first became homeless when he was 14 years old. (Submitted by Reel Youth)

He said what struck him about Binskin is that they could talk like old friends. 

"He picks up on bits and pieces of my personality that you can only get from me if you knew me for a really long time," he explains.

'Youth have blown me away'

Vonesch says he started Reel Youth to try to inspire these kinds of shifts in thinking among young people, as well as expose them to life in different communities. 

Youth between the ages of 15 and 24 stepped behind the camera to focus on the stories of five homeless seniors in a new project by Reel Youth, a non-profit organization that aims to empower youth by teaching them film skills. (Submitted by Reel Youth)

"The youth have blown me away," he said. 

"Seeing the young people have a better understanding of homelessness is really powerful as well. I think it's common in our society to sort of tell young people, 'You know, don't talk to people on the streets,' or 'You know, avoid homelessness.' For a lot of them this is first time where they've actually been able to have a real conversation and seeing their sort of gears turning their mind around, well these are real people." 

The five documentaries will be screened on Jan. 24 during the Reel Youth Film Festival in Brampton. 

"I feel like once you get to meet someone who has been through a hardship and they get to share that with you, you kind of take on a part of that hardship in yourself and you understand what it was like," said Pilloud.


Amara McLaughlin

Senior producer, CBC News

Amara McLaughlin is the senior producer of social media for CBC News in Toronto.

With files from The National and Sharon Wu