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Living on the Brink of Homelessness by Brenda Rufener, author of Where I Live

Where I Live (Final Cover)Growing up, my parents struggled financially, and for years we lived on the brink of homelessness. My parents couldn’t afford childcare, so on Saturdays my mother dropped my six-year-old brother and me off at the steps of our rural public library where the doors opened at 9:00 am, and we were greeted as patrons. At the time, I had no clue of my family’s struggles, and I felt like the luckiest kid on earth spending weekends in a quiet space filled with books.

 

The librarians never side-eyed my worn-out tennis shoes or my brother’s Kool-Aid stained face. They didn’t bat an eye at a parentless ten-year-old stretched out on a patchwork rug reading to her younger sibling. As long as we respected the rules, we were welcome until closing time. The library became our place of refuge.

 

A few years later, I’d become keenly aware of my parents’ financial struggles. Money became a heated topic. How we needed it but never had it. And when my father lost his job due to layoffs, the already shaky foundation of my home crumbled.

 

We shuffled back and forth between homes and couches belonging to relatives. Our days spent living with family members turned to weeks, and weeks to months. I remember friends wanting to come over and hang out, but no rested on the tip of my tongue, embarrassed of the fact that I had no bedroom of my own. “Let’s meet at the library,” I’d say.

 

My situation, although not as severe as many homeless teens, partly inspired my novel, Where I Live. When writing, I drew on personal experiences, emotions, and insecurities I had growing up while facing homelessness.

 

The statistics of homelessness are overwhelming and impersonal. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, on a single night in January, 549,928 people experienced homelessness in the United States. Over one-fifth of people experiencing homelessness were children, and nine percent were between the ages of 18 and 24. Unfortunately, this number continues to rise.

 

Public awareness has improved dramatically since I was a kid, but there is still work to be done. Today, housing insecurity, like my parents experienced during my childhood and teen years, is at an all time high. We’re seeing a large number of college students living in their vehicles because they can’t afford rent. This is especially true among community college students. We’re also seeing families forced out of their homes due to abrupt rent hikes. And an alarming number of LGBTQ+ teens being forced from their homes after coming out to their parents.

 

To compound problems, many homeless shelters are not equipped to take in teens, especially those who identify as girls. Homeless teens report that they don’t feel safe or comfortable in homeless shelters that cater to adults.

 

In college, I volunteered with a literacy program helping homeless young women. Struck by their tenacity and unwillingness to give up hope, I was drawn to their strength. How I wished teen-me had known these women. They were homeless, but never hopeless, and they helped show me how homelessness takes on many faces.

 

Homelessness is not always the weathered and grizzled man panhandling on the street corner. Yes–he exists and should be helped, but other faces exist, too. They are the student sitting next you in class. The friend living in her car with dreams similar to your own. They are ambitious young people who are much more than their crisis.

 

Today, I continue my volunteer efforts to raise money and collect supplies for teen homeless shelters. Spoiler: Shelters need tampons, deodorant, and women’s hygiene products, and they are some of the least donated items. This small act of service is a reminder to myself, and now to my own children, that homelessness has many faces and is not a one size fits all journey.

 

My novel, Where I Live, is a tribute to the resilient homeless youth I’ve encountered over the years, and to a library community that filled me with hope and possibility.

 

Credit: Carolyn Scott Photography

Credit: Carolyn Scott Photography

Meet Brenda Rufener

Brenda Rufener is a technical writer turned novelist who spent her childhood stomping through the woods of Oregon. A double major in English and biology, Brenda graduated from Whitman College, and now lives in North Carolina with her family. She is an advocate for homeless youth.

https://www.brendarufener.com/

And buy link:

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062571090/where-i-live

Comments

  1. Thank you for this wonderful article on homeless. Me and my son felt the pain of trying to keep from being homeless. Thank you. I love my library for they were my church where I felt safe and loved. I loved volunteering for years.

  2. Amanda MacGregor, thanks!And thanks for sharing your great posts every week!

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