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Filmmaker Convinces Homeless Man ‘You’re Worthy Of A Life Lived Abundantly’
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Michael Leoni didn’t set out to make a documentary film. A playwright, he had produced a play about homeless teens and would occasionally invite young people from the street to see the play and provide feedback to keep the show authentic.
Two of the young women he’d come to know were murdered. He decided there was a story to tell and a need to compel others to be of more help. He planned to produce a short public service announcement and took his gear out to the streets and began filming, one at a time, each with permission, the members of a street “family.”
After spending almost 24 hours with them with the camera running, he realized there was too much to share in a two-minute PSA. Ultimately, Leoni’s documentary, American Street Kid, was filmed over a seven-year span. Along the way, he launched a nonprofit called Spare Some Change to help young people find a way off the streets.
Nick Pumroy, one of the young people featured in the film, joined Leoni and me for a recorded conversation you can watch in the video player at the top of the article.
Nicholas Pumroy CREDIT: NICK PUMROY
Pumroy’s story is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Perhaps with help from a friend, he wrote a short biography of his life in the third person. It is included here, lightly edited.
Born : December 10, 1989. One of four children in Las Vegas, NV.
Childhood: family relocated to Philadelphia, MS in the summer of 1994, Nick was four years old.
Nicholas began to smoke marijuana ate the age of eight years old after experiencing two sexually abusive babysitters and enduring physical and emotional abuse at home.
Nick’s first experience with getting high on meth was around the age of 11 years old after being offered the drugs from a friend’s mother. At the age of 12 years old, Nick began to learn to cook crystal methamphetamine for local drug dealers to make money.
At the age of 15 Nick dropped out of school, moved into this own apartment and completed a GED program in lieu of completing high school.
At the age of 17, Nicholas was emancipated from his parents who signed consent for him to get married in 2007. Nick and his wife had two children, Nicholas Jr. (January 11, 2008) and Juli-Ann (February 2, 2009).
Nicholas moved his family to Texas where he worked and attended college for welding. Nick ‘s marriage began to fall apart after his wife developed signs of postpartum depression. Nick headed for California after a series of unfortunate events – the most devastating being the departure of his wife and children (who returned MS).
Homeless and 19 years old, Nick found himself in Los Angeles, CA where he encountered drug addiction, prostitution and vagrancy on a level he never thought of for several years. Until meeting Michael Leoni 2010.
Nick continued to make contact with family and friends while living on the streets of Hollywood, but to no avail did he receive support or assistance.
Nicholas went on to become a massage therapist and landed a dream job in the Marketing department of a prominent social media corporation 2013. Nick was sober for 13 months before he fell off the wagon and received a call from his father in Las Vegas, who had fallen ill and requested Nick’s assistance. With the intention of caring for his father and get back on his feet, Nick fell into the streets of Las Vegas remained homeless and on drugs.
In December 2015, Nick received a call from his father-in-law reporting that Nick Jr. had been killed in a tornado in Holly Springs, MS.
Suicidal, homicidal, a danger to all, Nick was unable to cope with life. While he battled addiction, he watched his father slowly kill himself by the same drug of choice.
In August 2016, Nick woke up and was fed up. He reached out to Michael Leoni and came back to California–sober, with family and friends.
Today, with support from his fiancé and friends, including Leoni, Pumroy is clean and sober, off the streets and looking for work.
In our conversation, Pumroy explained the key to getting off the streets, “It was somebody believing in you and not just coming out there saying they believe in you just so they could get results, you know what I mean? It was a genuine care. It was a genuine, ‘I believe in you,’ like you’re worthy of love, you’re worthy of–you’re worthy of a life lived abundantly.”
That isn’t the first time Leoni has heard something like that. “’Greens,’ one of the kids in the movie always says, ‘You can’t believe in yourself unless you’re believed in,’” Leoni shared.
The film is screening on a rolling basis around the country. Check the website for the schedule.
Following the theatrical screenings, Leoni plans to release the film via transactional video on demand services like iTunes and Amazon, followed by distribution via subscription services like Netflix and Hulu. He hopes it can also be seen via a cable television network. Finally, he’s looking to distribute it to colleges and universities.
Cause-oriented filmmakers like Leoni represent a genre of social entrepreneur that combines two passions, one for the cause and the other for the medium, to bring a film to life. Leoni typifies that spirit.
“My solution is to create art that makes people think. Maybe that will change their viewpoint or open themselves up to another viewpoint,” Leoni says. “Maybe that will lead a donor to contributing toward solutions for homeless youth or influencing politicians to take action on policy. For me, it’s about affecting people emotionally through the work and inspiring them to take action.”
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