Because No One Plans to Be Homeless

On April 22, 2013, in Book News, Fiction books, by Meg White

Hi, Book Scan readers. I spent the first part of last week hanging out with community planners at the American Planning Association’s national conference. Though I haven’t read the book described below, I thought the author (who gave the closing keynote at the conference) had some beautiful thoughts on home ownership that real estate professionals would appreciate. Enjoy! —MW

Early Pearl has a great idea for dealing with an intractable problem. As a homeless 11-year old Chicagoan, she sees all of the sturdy housing stock that stands empty and abandoned in her south side neighborhood and decides to take action.

From the cover of Blue Balliett's new book, Hold Fast

She gets some friends together and, with a few cameras, they snap pictures of these empty houses. They send the pictures—along with their imaginings of how the structures could be transformed into dream homes for kids without anywhere to live—to community leaders in an effort to spark a change in their unfortunate circumstances.

Early is only a character in Blue Balliett’s newest mystery novel, Hold Fast (Scholastic Press, 2013). But there are more than 30,000 kids in Chicago alone who are homeless just like she is, and some 16,000 vacant properties like the ones that Early dreams of inhabiting.

“Kids will easily share their dreams about a home,” Balliett said in her keynote speech at the American Planning Association’s national conference last week. “They never make small plans.”

Balliett, a bestselling author of young adult literature, told planners that she came up with the idea for Hold Fast during the housing downturn, when she noticed a dearth of news stories about the effect foreclosures were having on her target audience.

“The children were invisible,” she said. “I kept wondering about the kids: Who are they and what does it feel like to grow up without a front door?”

Of course, community planners, writers, and nonprofit directors know as well as real estate professionals the value of home when it comes to children.

“What kids need most is stability in their lives and a home provides that… Blue’s book really captured that,” said Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Ed Shurna, who spoke on a panel alongside Balliett at the closing keynote of the APA conference. “The danger is that they are going to stay homeless as adults.”

W. Paul Farmer, executive director and CEO of the APA, called on members to devote more of their attention to this difficult problem.

“As we have become arguably the best-housed nation in the world… we have allowed ourselves to not realize that we have these problems,” Farmer said. “These are, in fact, invisible to many people in the country.”

In a brief Q&A period, attendees asked panelists what they could do to help solve the issue in their local communities.

“Part of the key is to make your community care and take ownership in this problem,” Balliett responded. “Become determined to do something.”