Last week’s nationwide polar vortex served as a stark reminder of the dangers of winter. This season is particularly perilous for homeless kids and their families. Through her research for her novel Hold Fast, a mystery told through the eyes of a girl in the Chicago shelter system, acclaimed and bestselling author and Chicago resident Blue Balliett is familiar with the plight of the homeless. Today we welcome Blue to OOM to discuss Chicago homelessness and how her novel Hold Fast inspired a project committed to giving homeless kids a voice.
January in Chicago is often a time of howling, freezing winds and blanketing snows. It’s a time when many of us wonder how people without a place to call home manage – especially families with kids. The record cold of the past couple of days – sixteen below zero yesterday – makes the reality faced by the thousands and thousands of homeless kids, boys and girls growing up in the third-largest city in the United States, unforgivable. The numbers have risen with each year, to a current low estimate of 35,000 kids within the city of Chicago itself. These are kids just like your own or the kids down the block, but with one huge, painful difference.
I have been following this national rise in numbers for years now and wondering if I could possibly help, at least in my own way, to make these kids less invisible. To give them a voice. I began spending time in some of Chicago’s public shelters and got to know many kids I will never forget, kids who are ready to change their world.
Although worried about whether I could tackle this subject successfully, I wrote Hold Fast, a mystery published by Scholastic in March, 2013. It takes place in January and February of 2011 in a desolate neighborhood in Chicago, and is told through the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl, Early Pearl. After her father mysteriously disappears not far from home, she lands in a shelter with her mom and little brother. Shelter life plays a big part in this book, as does the Chicago Public Library, the unbreakable love within her small family and an idea Early comes up with, one to end homelessness. She calls her project Home Dreams, and it is kid-centered. Of course, a dream of mine has been that one day Early’s solution would find its way into real life, and that does seem to be happening.
Last fall, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless launched a project based on Early’s dream. It is called Homes for Kids, and has drawn the attention of the Chicago Sun-Times. As a mother, classroom teacher and writer, I’ve long believed that kids can be amazing visionaries and problem-solvers. They don’t necessarily see the walls their parents do, and herein lies much of their power; they reach easily for the stars.
There is word in the news these days that children are the new face of homelessness. I hope this renewed attention will bring this important issue to light as there is much work to be done.