A scientist investigates the homeless life and finds the unexpected in a new documentary entitled “Guttered.” Could being homeless alter DNA expression?

Studies have shown similar behavioral changes in populations, such as in populations of abused children, due to trauma. Trauma can silence or activate genes according to scientists in the field of study called behavioral epigenetics, and that can result in unhealthy behaviors. Trauma is likely prevalent among the homeless.

Poster image for new documentary "Guttered" on YouTube.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – August 6, 2019 – Unlike any other documentary on homelessness, a new documentary released on YouTube explores the reason why adult males persist in remaining homeless. The documentary Guttered, a film by Jerry Sedgewick, a scientific consultant from Saint Paul, Minnesota, features his own experience as a homeless person.

“I was given a dare because I kept asking a friend questions about what being homeless is like. My friend, Daniel, who had been homeless for six years, was very informative, but he kept saying the only way you really find out is by living the life yourself,” said Sedgewick.

As a result, Mr. Sedgewick spent a day living the homeless life while recording the experience with an undercover camera. Five formerly homeless men tell their stories as well, and comment on panhandling, job seeking, the homeless life, and why homelessness becomes persistent.

Daniel Velner, a former IT specialist from Faribaugh, Minnesota, tells Sedgewick his story of a downward spiral from an upper middle-class life to penniless and sleeping in a car as one of the five men interviewed in Guttered.

“I told my ex-wife, this isn’t so hard. But now after six years of eating in soup kitchens and sleeping in temporary shelters I wouldn’t wish this life upon my worst enemy,” said Mr. Velner.

But the narrative about homelessness takes an abrupt turn after Daniel gets a job. His job as a receptionist lasts only six weeks, and Daniel returns to his former life. He says, “Being homeless gets in your DNA.”

“That’s when the lights turned on,” Sedgewick said. “I had given up on the documentary because I wanted a success story and like magic Daniel got this job. Then, just like that, he loses it. But afterward I read about this relatively new field of study called epigenetics, what happens around the genes, read his DNA comment in the transcript, and then dug into the research to see if any behavioral scientist had done studies on the homeless population.”

It turned out that no studies had been done on the homeless population, but several studies revealed epigenetic changes as a result of trauma. And Sedgewick argues that homelessness is traumatic.

“Think about it,” said Sedgewick. “What could be worse than losing your job, your family, your home, and everything else that connected you to the life you know? Even in one day of being homeless I could see how damaging it can be. While some are resilient as in any population, most are traumatized.”

Mr. Sedgewick now hopes that he can get the message out, not only about epigenetic changes, but to rally for “Housing First,” a means of eliminating homelessness by immediate placement into housing.

Guttered is on YouTube available to the public for free viewing. It was released in August, 2019 by Prevail News, a nonprofit dedicated to finding jobs and housing for Street Survivors.

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