Local resident Laura Ferro aims to shine a light on the plight of unhoused pregnant women.

Laura Ferro, a Menlo Park director making a documentary about women who are homeless and pregnant in the Bay Area, is photographed in Menlo Park on Jan. 12. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Menlo Park resident Laura Ferro is raising funds for a project to complete a documentary she is directing about women who are homeless and pregnant in the region.

The project for the commercial filmmaker started five years ago when Ferro herself was pregnant. She saw a news story about a homeless woman who gave birth at a bus stop, Ferro said in an interview.

“This story made me realize how much more we need to do as a community to care for our unhoused neighbors. Becoming a new mom is already challenging, but this story made me think about how hard it is for a woman to go through a pregnancy without a stable home,” she said.

Ferro primarily makes videos for businesses with her production company, Rebel Monk. This is her first documentary, she said.

Director Laura Ferro and cinematographer Robin Webster film under a highway overpass in Redwood City in 2017 while working on a documentary about women who are homeless and pregnant. Photo by Jessica Fee.

So far, she and her filmmaking crew have followed the stories of three women, two of whom were pregnant when the group started filming in 2017. Now, they want to follow up on the women and their children. The film so far highlights the experiences of women in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, she said.

Ferro recruited Shawn Shearin, who works with Redwood City-based homeless service provider Street Life Ministries, and had herself once been homeless and pregnant, as line producer for the film.

“She knows everyone in this area,” Ferro said.

Years ago in Seattle, Shearin spent time living in an RV and moving motel to motel when she found herself pregnant, she said in an interview. “It was hard to find a place to go, being pregnant,” she said. Many shelters put her on waitlists and never got back to her, she said.

“I didn’t know where to turn,” she said. “I was vulnerable, with an unhealthy person. …I felt trapped with nowhere to go. It was a frustrating time in my life.”

Things started to improve when she got shelter from a house for women and children with her son, and later when she and her son moved back to the Bay Area and she sought treatment for alcohol and pill use. Now, she has been sober for nine years, she said.

Gage Martinez, audio engineer, walks with director Laura Ferro and cinematographer Robin Webster on the team’s first day of filming at a homeless encampment under U.S. 101 in Redwood City in 2017. Photo by Jessica Fee.

“I needed to be around a healthy community,” she said. “That was key.”

Although this is her first time working on a documentary, Shearin said, she’s been able to help Ferro connect with other homeless women. “It feels natural to me to be on the streets, showing Laura (Ferro) around,” she said. “I’m used to being out on the campsites.”

She said she’s hoping that the documentary will help expose some of the gaps in the system working to tackle homelessness. “I really feel that women who are pregnant…need to be prioritized, for their health and the health of the baby,” she said.

Some of the organizations that have been interviewed for the film are San Mateo County Health, LifeMoves, and a homeless shelter at Grace Baptist Church. The team plans to interview additional service providers, Ferro said.

Now, the team is trying to finish the film, Ferro said. Their project is being sponsored by the Redwood City-based filmmaking nonprofit Bravemaker and is conducting a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign. They’re currently about $50,000 short of their fundraising goal, Ferro said.

Director Laura Ferro and cinematographer Robin Webster film a documentary about women who are pregnant and homeless in Redwood City in 2017. Photo by Jessica Fee.

They hope to complete the film by the end of the year. However, Ferro noted, sometimes the filmmaking process can take longer — for instance, if they decide to film another pregnancy, the addition could easily extend the timeline nine months or more.

She’s also hoping the film raises awareness and empathy for what people are going through. Even small actions can make a difference to people who are unhoused.

“Having a conversation is a great way to start,” she said.

“When I see someone on the streets I often sit next to them, introduce myself, and ask if they want a coffee or something warm to eat. Most of them accept my help, and they are grateful not just for the little help, but also for treating them as equals,” she said.

This story was first published in The Six Fifty’s sister publication, The Almanac.

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Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Bay Area reporter covering local government, inequality and the outdoors

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