by Heidi Ayarbe:
Guest Post with Heidi Ayarbe!
I live in Colombia, South America and part of my daily life is confronting the homelessness in my city. Pereira (Risaralda, Colombia) is the city in Colombia with the highest unemployment rate and a hub for displaced people who flee the countryside because of paramilitary and guerilla violence. Nevada, where I’m from, is one of the states with the highest percentage of homelessness in the United States. My daughter, who is only three, is already incredibly aware of the fact some people don’t have homes like we do. And one of the things we’ve tried to teach her is always look everyone in the eye, even when we don’t give money away (we only give away food), and say, “Good morning. Not today, Sir.” Because what I’ve found to be one of the saddest things about homelessness is what I call “the invisibility factor.”
It’s uncomfortable seeing people with signs that say, “Will work for food” on the streets. It’s uncomfortable smelling people who haven’t bathed for a long time. And many, instead of looking at the people we encounter on the street, only look at the circumstance. Beyond that “circumstance,” though, is a human being with a story that we probably can’t even begin to fathom. It’s easy to judge when we’re not hungry and have a roof over our heads.
That’s why I wrote Compromised. I wanted to get into the world of three young people who, because of life choices, bad luck (which is a big part of it), health afflictions, and limited options find themselves fighting to survive on the streets. I wanted to make sure we would SEE these children (because 1.5 million American children are homeless each year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness). And I thought they had a story worthy of telling.
When I began Compromised , I had no idea what I was getting into. I was naïve about life on the streets and the realities of runaways. But the more I researched, the more I realized that this wasn’t going to be a road trip book. There’s no way, as a writer, I could enter a world of runaways and homelessness without discussing exploitation, abuse, prostitution, violence, suicide, hunger, death, and all of the aspects a world on the street entails. Not discussing these issues would result in a story without integrity. And I believe Maya, Nicole, and Klon all had stories worth telling. As a writer, I had to be honest, and I hope I achieved honesty in their lives, their friendship, and their tragedies.
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