Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be homeless through no fault of your own? Suppose you are a teenager looking forward to her senior year with dreams of going to college. Imagine you live with your college-professor dad, your stay-at-home mom and two younger brothers in a comfortable home in an average middle-class neighborhood. Now imagine that idyllic picture, painted with the colors of hope and a bright future, fading to black.
In 2018, when I wrote my novel, I Want to Go Home (click on title to link to Amazon), I was trying to understand homelessness at its core. I found it challenging to create a plausible situation where Abby, the teenager, and her brothers lost their home and their security. After all, what events could possibly be extreme enough to plunge a comfortable middle-class family of Williamsburg, Virginia into financial ruin and a situation dire enough to compel the children to run away, avoiding foster care and ending up in a shelter in Washington, DC?
Little did I know that only two years later, the events of 2020 with its pandemic, political and racial unrest, and economic nosedive would happen. I could not have predicted that some breadwinners would die of COVID-19, that business owners would suddenly be left without their source of income or that families, many already having to live paycheck to paycheck, would find themselves in danger of eviction. Had I waited to write I Want to Go Home, my research into the causes of homelessness would have been unnecessary. Now there is clear evidence of how quickly peoples’ lives and livelihoods can change.
On the news, I see a single mother with four children standing outside her apartment house in Chicago, tears running down her cheeks. She has lost her job because the company she worked for had to close. She wants to work; she wants to support her children, not lavishly, but with basic food and shelter. She cannot pay her rent. I see the owners of a popular restaurant in Washington, DC forced to close for three months, unable to pay their loyal staff. The business this couple poured their finances and energy into for twenty years is now in danger of foreclosure. It is their only source of income, which means they could also lose their home. These are only two examples of thousands of true stories that reveal how fragile life is and how easily someone, even in the USA, can become homeless.
Little did I know that my fictional story would be so timely only two years after I wrote it. I was determined to depict a plausible homeless journey, but I was just as determined to end it with Abby’s survival and triumph. I wish I could do the same for my fellow citizens who are experiencing uncertainty, anxiety and hopelessness. I wish I could guarantee happy endings for them, too. Unfortunately, I have no control over the current situation or their uncertain futures. But there are leaders who do have a degree of control. It’s time they set aside their partisan differences and worked together to create happy endings for real people experiencing real struggles.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com. Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.