The Covenant House in New Orleans is a safe haven for homeless teens and young adults who are fighting to stay alive and off the streets. In Shelter, a remarkable documentary produced by VICE, we meet several of the facility's most troubled residents and the caregivers who work to empower them.
To one degree or another, all the inhabitants of the Covenant House have struggled through lives of neglect, abuse or abandonment. Many contend with mental health issues, which are further compounded in some by substance abuse. The facility is their last hope.
Just a few years ago, Elizabeth could be seen frolicking with loved ones and flashing a beaming smile in Facebook selfies. By the time we're introduced to her in the film, she is roaming the city, begging for change, soothing herself in song, and sleeping on park benches fighting back the cold. Her time on the street has clearly left its mark; her behavior is erratic, her mental stability is waning, and she's developed an impulsive distrust of anyone who offers her assistance. But she also exposes a tender vulnerability in her most confessional moments, and she's self-aware enough to realize that something has to change or she will die.
Matthew was tossed aside by his mother and forced to survive on his own at an early age. He's clearly disadvantaged, but determined. The filmmakers capture him as he embarks on his first job search. His story, like so many profiled in the film, is equal parts gut-wrenching and inspiring.
These residents represent the forgotten souls who are too often shunned and ignored in our society. The shelter takes them in and provides them with a warm bed, professional guidance, and an empathetic ear. The counselors who treat them are truly saviors in every respect; they're a constant source of understanding, advocacy, and comfort in the face of unimaginable adversity.
Shelter is a deeply human portrait of young lives in turmoil. On a visceral level, it allows us to experience the day-to-day plights of those less fortunate, and to appreciate the power of unconditional love and kindness. It's an essential film.