Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Different Face of Homelessness – Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco (Part I of II) by Craig Wiesner

People think they know the face of homelessness… the person from whom some avert their eyes as they walk along the street. I know that face. It is grizzled, gnarled, battered, and weary. It could be a man or a woman, black, white or brown, but the destructive force of life on the streets, in vehicles and in shelters leaves marks that are easy to spot. Many look away, to avoid the outstretched hand or escape having to share someone else’s suffering. Yet few walking down the street would avert their eyes from a cute little girl, a scruffy young boy, or a typical teen. Walking into any of America’s classrooms most of us can’t imagine that the boy sitting next to the class clown or the girl sitting near the teacher’s pet could be homeless. But they may very well be.

One out of 50 children in the United States will spend part of this year homeless. Whether they are in shelters, temporarily living with friends or relatives, living in cars, or at worst truly out on the streets, homeless children and families are more hidden. Another mostly invisible face of homelessness is LGBTQ youth. According to The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), up to 40% of homeless youth are gay.

At Reach And Teach our mission is to “transform the world through teachable moments.” With 1.5 million children experiencing homelessness in the United States, what could we do to make an impact on this issue? In 2010 our friends at PM Press sent us a note about a book they thought we should consider publishing about a homeless San Francisco girl named Ivy. Author Summer Brenner had done some volunteer work at a shelter for women and children and their stories touched her and prompted her to create Ivy Homeless in San Francisco.

I read the new manuscript and fell in love with Ivy, her father Poppy, and an eccentric pair of siblings named Eugenia and Oscar Orr. Ivy and her father had been evicted from their artist loft apartment when Poppy fell on hard times and couldn’t pay the rent. As someone who lived through the dot-com bubble, where San Francisco rents went through the roof, and average folks and small businesses were being tossed out onto the streets left and right, I could relate to this story! Ivy and Poppy ended up sleeping in Golden Gate Park and eating their rare meals at a soup kitchen. When Ivy took a tumble and got hurt, the police stepped in and it looked like Ivy would be taken away from her father. But then the Orr’s stepped in and an amazing adventure ensued.

(Part II of this blog entry will be posted shortly.)

Craig Wiesner is the co-founder of Reach And Teach, a peace and social justice learning company.

Photo found at Orlando Sentinel here.

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