Press Release: Filmmaker spends a year with homeless people in Austin

December 8, 2020

Media Contact:  
David Herman, VP of Public Relations at (Austin based).

Filmmaker spends a year with homeless people in Austin

“A guy pulled over, gave me a cup of coffee and a bagel. About 30 seconds later a woman gave me the finger.” This is how a homeless veteran describes daily encounters with other people. 

These experiences were captured by Ruben Grafe, a filmmaker who is creating a documentary about people living on the streets of Austin. Ruben tells about the eye-opening experience and how it inspired a local fundraiser.

“A lot of the times you will hear that homeless people are lazy, that they are drug addicts, or they don’t want to work, but that’s not the truth. A lot of them are just trying to get back on their feet. They hit a rough patch and they just want to make their lives better. They are not doing it because they want to do it,” says Ruben.

For more than a year, a group of visual storytelling enthusiasts have been filming interviews with the homeless in Austin to uncover their real-life experiences and share them with the world.

Austin decriminalized homelessness in 2019, which some believe gave this problem more visibility in the city. But visibility didn’t mean Austinites changed their opinions about tents near the road and the people who live in them.

Encouraged to show different perspectives, Ruben dives into deep conversations about the reasons people become homeless, how others treat them and their plans for the future.

As Ruben says, this is real life – it’s not glamorous. That’s why the interviews weren’t filmed in quiet and clean studios: they take place where the informants hang out during the day, on the edge of I-35, in front of their tents, and next to a Starbucks dumpster.

When asked about the most memorable moments during filming, Ruben tells about one homeless man who became the main subject of their documentary. His name is Daniel and they keep in touch to this day. Daniel is currently getting back on his feet, working, getting everything needed for his ID and even fixing his own car.

“He is just a really fun guy to talk to, very interesting, very engaging and easy-going,” Ruben says. “We kind of filmed a friendship with him. We’ll text, he’ll come over every once in a while and we’ll just hang outside of filming.”

Some people are on the streets for years, while others manage to get out of this situation quite quickly. Melissa Nicewarner Daly, Executive Director of HomeAid Austin, explains some of the reasons behind this. HomeAid Austin is a non-profit organization that works with local construction companies to develop, build and maintain housing for nonprofits serving those experiencing homelessness.

“People’s ties to resources and community are contributing factors when looking at the time it takes to get into secure housing,” says Melissa. “Something as simple as obtaining an ID can be near impossible without funds, a birth certificate and the knowledge of how these systems work. The easier we can make it for people to gain access to supportive housing that meets their current needs, the more success we will see with keeping people housed long term.

“We simply don’t have enough resources or housing options to make this happen right now and that’s where organizations like HomeAid can help—by lifting up local service providers and assisting them with the renovations and ground-up construction projects that will ultimately serve as resource centers and/or housing for those at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness.”

According to Melissa, this year’s events like school closures and job loss have contributed to issues of food insecurity, abuse, housing insecurity, trauma and addiction. “2020 has had a strain on everyone’s mental health and overall wellbeing, and all of the aforementioned issues are causes of homelessness.”

The full documentary is still being filmed but you can already watch interviews about 5 unique experiences on the news video platform, created to share personal stories and benefit society.

With these stories, is raising money for HomeAid Austin before Christmas. David Herman, VP of Public Relations, says that this fundraising reflects the mission of their company.

"Helping spread and share stories like these is why we’re creating a socially-empowered video platform here in Austin,” says David.

Watch the eye-opening stories on

Additional information

In collaboration with local filmmaker Ruben Grafe, published 6 eye-opening and touching stories about homeless neighbors of Austin. With each video, we have tried to show different and shocking causes, issues, or stereotypes that relates to homelessness.  

Justin: Surprising reasons that can lead you to homelessness and that aren’t just alcohol or drugs. A story of a man who gets a middle finger and a warm bagel just a few minutes apart. 

Lilian: A story of a wine expert with two college degrees, who feels mistreated just because she’s currently homeless. 

Sonia: A story of a single woman on the streets, who experienced sexual assault and doesn’t feel safe. She also mentions small things that she misses the most from her normal life, such as starting a day with a shower or cooking whatever you want. 

Gary: A story of a veteran, who didn’t know that he had PTSD until it hit him. He faced multiple other mental health issues, that led him to unemployment, financial struggles, and then…. homelessness. 

Daniel (Shanti): How to build a shelter from debris found around the town and make it suitable for living? Daniel tells us how he picked a spot for his Shanti, how he made sure it is warm enough to sleep there, and how to get some sunlight in. 

Daniel (Treasure Box): The story about the mouth-watering food from… dumpster. Daniel takes the film crew to his favorite Treasure box to show the bags of onion and cheese bagels he gathers from the dumpster and shares with others in need. 

Ruben Grafe is an upcoming filmmaker from Houston, Texas who has been independently creating short-form media for over five years. After being selected by the Festival Internacional de Cinema da Figueira da Foz for his narrative short film, he has grown an interest in documentary filmmaking and is now currently working on his first feature project. 

HomeAid Austin is a charity that identifies long-term, stable homeless care providers who need additional capacity and pairs them with our builders, vendors and suppliers, who donate their time, materials and labor to rehabilitate and build housing for Austin’s homeless.

 Photos Available: