Homeless and Hiding It
Guest Post by Kathryn Leigh Scott
Some twenty years ago I watched a “60 Minutes” segment about homeless women who were living undetected in their cars in affluent neighborhoods, what I term “homeless and hiding it.” Beverly Hills, where I live, is one of the neighborhoods where these women, who had once lived in comfort and security, were now eking out a day-to-day existence on the streets. For these women, a roof over their heads comes with four wheels and a dashboard. They’d lost everything, including the means to regain their livelihoods and lead the sort of productive lives they’d once known. It’s alarming how little it takes to lose everything: divorce, catastrophic illness or accident, bad investments, career meltdown, physical or mental health issues and natural disaster can destroy lives in short order.
The “60 Minutes” segment that aired in 1992 had a huge impact on me, opening my eyes to the telltale signs of women living on the edge. I spotted a woman cleaning out her car parked on a side street, its chassis sagging with the weight of clothing, food and personal belongings. I came across others “bathing” in public rest rooms, hovering around the free samples and “manager’s specials” in grocery stores and cruising cosmetics aisles to use “testers” to groom themselves. This awareness prompted me to begin working with the homeless program at All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, one of four churches along Santa Monica Boulevard that provide meals on weekdays. Local restaurants and venders in the farmer’s market provide food which allows All Saints’ volunteers to serve a three-course sit-down meal on Mondays, providing fresh clothing, toiletries, reading material and referrals to community assistance services. My husband and I also helped out at My Friend’s Place in Hollywood that assists homeless youth.
The specter of “losing everything” spurred me to write a novel about a woman who lives much like I do, but ends up residing in her “Ritz-Volvo” on the streets of one of the wealthiest, most fashionable cities in the world. The book is a romance mystery, written with humor, but deals with the fears and gritty reality of a woman living homeless, isolated from the people and the world she once knew. It’s also about survival and redemption, finding the road back home to friends, reputation and a new beginning. The story is fictional, not based on anyone I know, but I do draw on my background as an actress/writer and the knowledge gained from volunteer work with homeless people. The novel springs entirely from my imagination, asking myself “what if?” this happened to me. What would I do to survive? Among the first readers of my manuscript were the women in my book club. Our discussion of the novel was only a jumping off place to a wide-ranging conversation about “what if I lost everything?” because it’s a fear we all harbor and it takes so little to make it a reality. We also delved into what each of us could do to help the homeless in our community, and also to assist the “homeless and hiding” living on the fringes of our society. If reading my book opens that sort of discussion, I could not be more gratified.
Kathryn Leigh Scott, author of “Down and Out in Beverly Heels,” is probably best known for her star turn as Josette Du Pres, ingénue bride of reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins in the TV cult classic “Dark Shadows.” This is her second work of fiction, following her debut novel last year, Dark Passages. While continuing her acting career, Kathryn launched Pomengranate Press to publish books about the entertainment industry, “Dark Shadows” fan books, and other nonfiction and fiction titles.