The Power of One Person's Story

By Nathan Young - Storytelling Consultant

Earlier this year I got the opportunity to help my friend Dennis Stein with a documentary he produced, Tony - The Movie. The movie is a film about the homeless problem here in San Diego, and focuses on one person, Tony Rodriguez, as he looks for housing while struggling through his daily life on the street. 

I had always wanted to work on a documentary, so when Dennis asked for my help I jumped at the chance. I was a little bit intimidated at first because I had never worked with storytelling in video media before but I quickly realized that all the basic tenets of storytelling carried over into video as readily as every other medium. 

Tony is an incredibly open and vulnerable focal point of the film. He shares about his life, what originally brought him to homelessness, and guilt and frustration he feels living every day on the streets. Through Tony’s eyes we see how the near constant harassment from law enforcement makes it hard for him to get any rest; how scraping together a couple bucks for food dominates his day; how keeping his meager but important possessions safe is a constant source of tension; and how the bureaucratic hoops to finding housing can feel like an insurmountable goose chase. 

The film also dives into the story of what San Diego is doing to combat homelessness, contrasted against the story of other cities, most notably Houston, and the efforts they’ve made. One of the most poignant moments of the film is a thread of interviews from half-a-dozen city and social services stakeholders in Houston sharing how they were able to decrease their homeless population in the city from 8,500 to 3,400, primarily by coordinating the efforts of all the different homeless assistance programs in the city under one plan. The challenge, as evidenced by San Diego and many other cities, is getting all the stakeholders under one plan. 

The film has been getting great reviews and is an amazing example of the power of storytelling. CityBeat said: 

“What Stein and Rodriguez have accomplished in the film is remarkable. Through one person’s story, they’ve taken a complicated and daunting issue and made an inspiring piece of art that both educates and emboldens audiences. For Rodriguez, the process has restored his faith that homelessness is an issue that people care about and that they want their local representatives to take action.”

This is the power of storytelling. It can seem counterintuitive, but oftentimes digging deep into one person’s story can shed light on a large, complicated and nuanced issue in a way that sharing statistics or attempting to talk about the whole problem can never accomplish. This is an important reminder for organizations, especially nonprofits, as they attempt to communicate the importance of the work that they do. A deep dive on one story can be worth more than a thousand facts and statistics. It can seem like a daunting task with the facts and statistics are right there, but hopefully by seeing Tony - The Movie, another take away many people will get is the power of one person’s story. 

San Diego has 9,116 currently homeless people1,054 of whom are veterans. Homelessness has cost the region over $300 million for the last two fiscal year. But none of these statistics will resonate with you the way the story one man and his day to day struggle with homelessness can. 

The great thing about Tony - The Movie is it’s been inspiring people to act. Dennis has created a website with more information about how individuals can help fight homelessness and he keeps interested readers updated with the latest developments in homelessness via a regular email newsletter.

To learn more about how you can catch a screening of Tony - The Movie or fight homelessness, click here:

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