Film

'We can 100% end homelessness': Someone's Daughter, Someone's Son filmmaker's rousing call to action

Filmmaker Lorna Tucker’s humanising documentary delivers a searing truth that homelessness can happen to anyone – and reminds us hope is never lost

Someone's Daughter, Someone's Son

Filmmaker Lorna Tucker. Image ©Louise Haywood-Schiefer

The sky is lit up as the sun sets over West London. We can see out all across the city from the big marble kitchen table cluttered with books, glasses and paintbrushes. But for Lorna Tucker, there are parallel cities. 

“I spend most of my time walking in a ghost world. I can go to a meeting in Soho and get super excited, and then I’ll step outside of a club and there’s the ghost of my friend who died of an overdose, or I walk through Rupert Street where I suffered horrific abuse,” she says. 

“And it still smells the same. I still remember everything, and my friends who were killed in Berwick Street, I can still see the shine of the lamp on the blood.”  

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I sip what I later realise is a very strong coffee. Lorna has already had six when she shows up, with her trousers tucked into her socks – a trick Vivienne Westwood taught her. One of the mugs, emblazoned with “suck my dick”, is by Nick Cave and was given to her by someone as a gift. But as a teenager, just a couple of miles down the road, Lorna slept rough. 

A man selling The Big Issue became her guardian angel, and her picture appeared in the missing people column in the pages of this magazine. This week, her career in filmmaking has taken her to our front cover. How do you get out of that? How do you get here? 

We’re talking because her newest film, Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son, is personal. 

Tucker’s previous films include the Netflix documentary, Call Me Kate, about Katharine Hepburn; 2018’s Westwood, a portrait of the late legendary designer; and Amá, a documentary on the abuse of Native American women. 

Now, she has become the subject, telling the story of her experience of living on the streets, along with those who have been through it too, are going through it, and policymakers and campaigners with an idea of how to solve the problem. 

Emma, who features in Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son

Even if it is sometimes spoken about like gravity, or earthquakes, homelessness is not inevitable. As we’ve seen with the Post Office drama, art can galvanise, make an issue bubble over into a public scandal. 

“I’ve never seen a film that has shown you clearly there’s an end to homelessness,” says Tucker. She hopes Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son will change that, and serve as a rousing call to action, while also allowing her to leave that part of her life behind. 

“I have absolute, 100%, belief that we can end homelessness. Right now we’re at a point where homelessness youth figures are at the highest they’ve been since I was a child on the streets.” 

When she was 14, Lorna fell in with gangs, began taking drugs and getting involved in burglaries. Her desperation to be liked and needed, to make friends she didn’t have at school, made her an easy target. 

“It seemed exciting and fun and dangerous and wild, and these people liked me, and before you know it, you’re getting arrested and giving fake names. It’s a slow disintegration,” she says. 

Eventually, trouble with the police mounted and court beckoned. Warned by friends she wouldn’t do well in prison, she ran away with just her clothes and her school backpack. 

“I just felt like I was going to be an adult,” she says. After a period of relative excitement – she describes it almost like camping, drinking and partying with loads of teenagers on the streets – the spiral began. Drugs, abuse, witnessing worse and worse incidents. At one point, two of her friends were murdered on the street. She would end up living there for 18 months. 

As the situation got worse, it became harder to imagine going back. It was human kindness that helped her off the streets. 

Tucker with Darren from Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son, who sleeps where she used to under Waterloo Bridge

On her first morning waking up on the streets, Lorna saw a man, about 5ft6, with a gruff beard and dark brown eyes. He winked at her, and she realised he had placed a coat over her while she slept. 

That man was Greg, a Big Issue vendor. “He was my guardian angel”, she says. He introduced her to people, showed her where she could get clean. When somebody stole her trainers, he helped her get new shoes. Greg was ex-military, and people had written him off, but the help he was given inspired him to pay it forward. He constantly told her she wouldn’t go to prison, and that nobody is beyond repair.  

“Without him, I would have died, 100%. He was always a lifeline, showing that there could possibly be a life for me outside of that,” she says. 

While we talk, Lorna describes an accident. In Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son, she’s more blunt: she jumped off a bridge. Waking up in hospital, a police officer told her it would be OK. But it was a long road back to reintegration. 

None of this was going to be in the film. It was only when, near the end of filming, Lorna sat down for an interview with Big Issue founder John Bird. He surprised her with an old magazine, which had her face in it as a missing person. 

Lorna Tucker and John Bird in Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son

“It was such a punch in the chest. When you’re that young, and you’re that damaged, you think you’re so much older than you are,” she says. 

“It really hurt, because how? How did that happen? It changed something in me, because it made me start to empathise with myself, and stop being so angry with situations I put myself in continually, forever. It was devastating, and John Bird was amazing, really protective of me.” 

This was the catalyst to think her story could give others hope. Somebody’s Daughter, Somebody’s Son begins with footage of her as a child, playing, being normal. Once she had decided to put herself in the film, she had to ask her dad if he had any videos. Watching it made her realise something: she’d been a normal child, written off by others. She began to forgive herself. 

Lorna Tucker missing person advert, which ran in The Big Issue in the late 1990s

The message of the footage is clear: don’t assume people on the streets are some nebulous ‘them’. This could happen to anybody. As a homeless woman, Lorna learned to become invisible. Heroin became her best friend. The early hours of the morning, just before sunrise, were the moment of most peril – you are a target. 

But it can be escaped. That is the real purpose, Tucker says, of including herself in the film. For kids in the same position as her, she wants to serve as a reminder of coming out the other side. To that end, the film tells the stories of others who’ve come off the streets, serving as mentors, including John Bird. 

He’s an example, says Tucker, of how experience of homelessness can be used to fix the problem. 

“If we had a panel of people with lived experience advising the government – these people in power are put in positions where they’re meant to be making these policies for the betterment of people, but they’re so far removed from that part of society that they don’t know what they’re talking about,” she says. “We need to shake up that.” 

There’s celebrity involvement too: Tucker didn’t want Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son to be about her, until Steve Coogan persuaded her. Colin Firth narrates the introduction. Bryan Adams recorded a song which plays at the end of the film, after Tucker contacted him upon seeing his portraits of Big Issue vendors. Liam Fender, the brother of Geordie Springsteen Sam, put on a fundraiser for the film. 

It wasn’t as simple as leaving the streets and immediately becoming a filmmaker with useful friends, mind. Homelessness was on and off for Tucker, as the process of getting back to ‘normal’ life stopped and started. Learning to read and write properly opened doors, and she realised how many routes were open to her – she applied for a BTEC foundation course in art and design at the age of 19 and discovered photography. 

There was help available to her then that isn’t available now – free childcare, for example. And her time on the streets gave her transferable skills – she can break up a fight, and talk to anyone. 

But sometimes the ghost world becomes visible. Lorna bumped into Greg, nearly two decades after she’d been on the streets. She was with a really famous actress – she won’t say who – and Greg recognised her instantly. “You’re alright kiddo, you’re alright”, he told her. “It was the last time I ever saw him,” she says.

It’s that reminder of change, that things can be alright, which is at the heart of the film. Tucker wants it to be shown not just in cinemas but at communal screenings. And rather than walking out, feeling bad, and handing a fiver to someone on the streets, Tucker wants concrete action. 

“Until we stop 14-year-olds falling on the streets, and waking up in the situations I woke up in, I don’t think I’m ever going to feel a sense of achievement,” she says. 

“I will always walk around with a heavy heart of guilt.” 

Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son is in cinemas from 16 February. For tickets and screenings, click here.

The film was supported by Housing Technology, the UK’s leading information powerhouse for the housing sector, dedicated to driving innovation and improvement in social housing. Read more

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