Filmmaker explores student homelessness in Akron in ‘Doubled Up’

by Jarett Theberge 

The director of Inside Akron’s Tent City docu-series is back in Akron to take on the issue of child homelessness with his new project called Doubled Up.

Kevin Naughton, a freelance journalist and filmmaker based in Cleveland, was inspired to start this documentary after covering Akron’s Tent City last year. There, Kevin and his crew heard that there were thousands of homeless students in Akron. 

“We had heard the issue while we were down there, but we couldn’t go into it because it was too off the beaten path for [the Tent City documentary],” he says. 

According to Project RISE, an organization within the Akron Public School system that provides services to students experiencing homelessness, 10% of the public school population in Akron experience homelessness. That’s roughly 2,000 children. 

The film crew interviewed students who had either graduated or were unaccompanied youth still in high school. All were at least 18 years old.

“It’s hard enough for adults to talk about that stuff, so we clearly didn’t want to put a kid on the spot while they are still trying to figure it out. It didn’t feel like an appropriate move,” he says. “Especially if the kid is still in school and getting heavily bullied for some of the stuff that can come along with homelessness.” 

There isn’t just one recurring reason why students end up homeless. Kevin says every former student they spoke with had a different story and cause for their situation. 

“There was one story where their mother had an addiction issue. Another was a foster family who kicked [the student] out and they ended up on the streets or couch surfing [their] entire high school career. And another was a mother who got into a bad car accident and lost her jobs and couldn’t pay her bills.” 

The meaning behind the title of Doubled Up comes from the fact that homeless students will often have to stay with friends or family. Kevin says that because of this, homeless students change schools often and therefore miss instruction and material taught for standardized testing. To help minimize this, Project RISE does offer a service that helps students and their transitions to other schools. 

“Schools don’t go at the same pace. You don’t come from a school and go to another school across the city and expect them to be teaching the exact same subject at the exact same time.”

In addition to speaking with former students, Kevin and his team spoke with sociologists, community leaders like Sage Lewis and Lafayette Martin, city councilmembers and local organizations such as Project RISE. 

Considering the heavy subject matter of the film, Kevin says that sometimes he has to work himself up and prepare his mind to even edit the film, as the reality of homeless children can bring him down. 

“It’s heavy, man,” Kevin says. “I was just editing, and you have to work yourself into this mood. I find the more I work on it, I get angry.” 

The goal of the project is to spread awareness about the issue of student homelessness. 

Akron is not alone in its population of homeless students. Kevin says that the number of homeless students in Columbus is higher than Akron. Cleveland has roughly the same percentage of homeless students, but with a much bigger population. 

“We knew we wanted to go in and talk about the issue, because that’s a shocking number and it should be a shocking number,” Kevin says. “And the fact that we never heard of it, and neither did a lot of other people that we talked to, knew that it was like, ‘OK, this is something people need to talk about.’” 

Because of its size, Akron (roughly 200,000 residents) made for a big enough area to collect ample testimonies but not so big that the task of showing the full scope of student homelessness in the city would be too ambitious. The crew has been working on the film since April. 

“Akron is cool because it’s a microcosm of the Midwest,” Kevin says. “That’s why we tried to use it that way. It’s the same for all these other cities, but it’s at a small enough scale so we could actually wrap our heads around it.” 

To fund this project, Kevin was one of five recipients to obtain a grant from the SPACES art gallery in Cleveland via the Urgent Art Fund.

The film is currently in post-production. Filmmakers plan to enter the project into the film festival circuit at the end of 2019, including the 44th Cleveland International Film Festival. 

Until then, Kevin asks that people share the trailer to encourage dialogue about the film and the issue. The team is also seeking sponsors for post-production. 

Other people included in the project are: 

Jeffery Steinwachs – Writer and assistant director

Wilson Rivera – Writer and host 

Robert Reiland – Cinematography and director of photography

Ian Douglas – Sound Engineer

Jason Dunlap – Score Composer 

Image used with permission from the filmmakers. Jarett Theberge is a journalism student at Kent State University.