If You Lived With Me, You’d Be Home By Now
This episode features writer Annabelle Gurwitch exploring her new work, “If You Lived With Me, You’d Be Home By Now." This one-woman show uses comedy and prose to depict her true-life experience participating in a host home program for youth experiencing homelessness, presented in En Garde Arts' Uncommon Voices performances.
This is a story a lot of people will relate to.
Housing insecurity is one of the biggest issues
that we're facing in this country
and across the world right now.
And it brings up this question, "Who do we let into our home?
Who do we let into our community?
Who do we let into our country?
I thought, okay, this is -- I have fallen into this story
that has so much cultural and social relevance.
And when I hear about a story like this,
I get what I think of as a brain-gasm.
I get just so excited,
like, "Oh, God, I have to tell this story."
I'm Annabelle Gurwitch, and I am the playwright
and the performer of
"If You Lived With Me, You'd Be Home By Now."
And so it's very exciting for me
to get to talk about it with you.
I've had three different careers,
but they're all in the arts.
I started out as an actress working in theater,
and then I ended up hosting television shows
in the comedy space.
And then I started writing.
And that career really took over my life
and I started writing books.
I've got four books that are out,
but the uniting factor in all of those things is storytelling.
My new work is based on the experience that I had in 2019.
I volunteered to participate
in a host home program in Los Angeles.
I invited two at-risk youth
who were experiencing homelessness into my home.
Well, actually, it's probably a good idea.
So I'm getting my house ready for the strangers to arrive,
and I have no idea
what it's going to be like to have 'em at my house.
So I'm hiding my valuables in the closet,
and they get there.
And what I don't know until much later
is while I'm hiding my valuables in the closet,
they were hiding their valuables because they were thinking,
"What kind of nut case invites homeless people
to stay in her house?"
The first night we stayed in Annabelle's house, we were like,
"This house is beautiful.
Who is this woman and why does she let us be here?
Like, "There is something. There has to be a reason."
We started hiding our valuables and music devices and jewelry.
The host home program is combating
the housing insecurity crisis.
So it's a rapid rehousing model which seeks to pair people
with an extra bedroom and people experiencing homelessness.
You know, I just felt it was a story
that so many people would relate to.
Once I knew I wanted to start writing
about this experience of hosting
at-risk homeless youth, I got a small grant
from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
Then we placed this story inThe L.A. Times.
And now I'm writing this play based on the story
that was published inThe L.A. Times.
The conceit of this particular theater piece
is that the audience is coming to an orientation
for people who might be volunteering as hosts
in the host home program.
You know, in Los Angeles,
16,000 people are sleeping in their car every night.
So I've worked with the organization
that sponsored my program,
which is called A Safe Place for Youth.
They've given me their training PowerPoint presentation.
So I'm going to be asking the audience to do the exercises,
some of these sensitivity
and trauma training exercises that we did.
So they're going to be acting out scenarios with me
that could happen potentially when they're hosting.
First of all, I'm so glad you all came out tonight.
I really loved my experience as a host in the host home program.
And so it's very exciting for me to get to talk
about it with you.
People have asked me, you know,
how does this matching process work?
Do they assign people to you, or do you pick each other?
And, you know, I try to explain it.
It's kind of like Match.com for the homeless.
You know, like swiping right on Tinder
with people who are unhoused.
So every organization does this in a different way.
But the organization that I worked with had a picnic.
Right? So I went to this picnic,
and it's very L.A.
There was a drum circle,
and there was a little station where meditation was happening.
And there was a place where you could trim herbs
and make elixirs.
And I have reached the age where I guess I'm so old now,
everyone looked like they could be a homeless person to me.
I couldn't tell who was the staff,
who were the homeless people.
I'm walking around like a deer in the headlights.
And there was one person
who showed me this artwork on their phone.
They said they did artwork,
and it was so beautiful and sophisticated.
And I thought, I don't know if this is a staff person
or they're looking for a home.
And it hadn't even occurred to me
because I didn't know yet that there are
17,000 unhoused college students all over America.
And this person could be someone
who's looking for a home and be an artist
of great talent and development,
and there was delicious food and sound.
And I was feeling a little bit guilty
about eating homeless people's food, but it was so good.
And I had been on this, like, downwardly mobile spiral.
And I was so happy to have food that was, you know,
not food that I -- 'cause I wasn't eating at restaurants.
So I stuck, you know, one or two
or maybe seven lemon bars in my purse.
And I started chatting up another young person
who looked like they really liked lemon bars.
And I thought, well, that's enough we have in common.
So I said, do you want to come home with me?
And they said, "Annabelle, it's Chase.
I run this organization.
Do you remember? I ran the training."
I had not recognized him.
And he motioned to a couple that were by the dessert table,
and this was a couple,
and the female in the couple was holding a bunny rabbit.
And I had talked to them a little bit earlier in the day.
And she had said something about how they were trying
to get an agent for the bunny rabbit
so the rabbit could get work in commercials.
And the rabbit had a big following on Insta
and also had a Finsta.
And I was nodding my head, but I'm thinking,
"I can't get a commercial.
Good luck, you know, for the bunny."
And they looked so sketchy to me, you know,
because they had tattoos everywhere,
including their faces.
And she had the word "cured" on one cheek,
and on the other cheek, she had a flower.
I mean, it was a really pretty wild flower,
but still face tats.
Face tats. I'm thinking, you know,
gangs, drugs, and besides, there were two of them.
I'm not going to be outnumbered. I'm a woman living alone.
And also they have a bunny rabbit,
and I have a cat who considers everything furry dinner.
So I said "Anybody but them."
Whenever we first met Annabelle
and I looked at her shoes and saw what shoes she had,
I knew that she was like -- she couldn't be too harmful.
Like she was of some sort of importance, you know?
You know, she was like, "Okay, you know, she's pretty cool."
So about three weeks into their living at my house,
I was really starting to find my heart was just cracked open.
And I just loved them.
I thought, "You know what?
I got to really do my due diligence here."
And I did something that I'd been afraid to do to that point.
I put their names in an Internet search to see
if I could pull up anything, you know, really bad.
And I get on this site, you know, one of these sites
that rates you, like, you know, your dangerousness level,
and it said possible convictions,
possible charges against.
I'm like, "Okay, I'm in trouble here."
So then I put my name in
and I get a worse score.
It's like flashing red lights,
and it says possible convictions,
possible criminal charges.
My score is worse than J's score,
and I realized there is somewhat sketchy in the house,
and the sketchy person in this house is me.
We had a lot in common,
my house guests and me.
More than just moving to L.A. to be in the arts.
The truth was I had experienced a lot of financial instabilities
in my own -- when I was child,
when I was young, we'd lost our home
and we'd had to move across the country
and live with my aunt and uncle.
And that experience, that was more than 50 years ago,
and it always seems like it was yesterday.
And, I mean, and it had left a deep imprint on me
and the choices I had made in my life,
like dating someone whose apartment
looked like an apartment I once lived in or dating someone
because they had an apartment and I didn't, or, you know,
I've had this thing where I have to steal lemon bars
and hoard bath products at hotels,
like, more than is seemly.
Like, I check in and I call down
and then I call down again and I pretend someone else
is staying in the room with me.
It's not right, really.
And I had dropped out of college too
because of family finances.
And I had been on my own when I was 20,
the same age as K actually was.
And, I mean, I hadn't joined a church,
but I had joined a group at that age
that believed we were in contact with aliens.
I mean, if anyone, I should have been the one living in a car.
Now, I didn't tell my house guests any of this
because I didn't want them to think
I was comparing my experience to their experience,
the way I was comparing my experience to their experience.
But what was the difference? Why at that age
had things worked out differently for me and them?
And of course, you know, I had thought for so many years
it was because I was so superiorly talented.
And of course, there are so many factors,
including institutional racism and generational
if not wealth then stability.
But see, this is where my story,
I realized, really diverged from theirs
was that the zip code that you grow up in really turns out
to be a major determinant
of how much money you earn in your lifetime.
It doesn't really matter if your family were the high earners.
It's the better school system and it's also the access
that you have to culture and knowledge
and to people who have access to wealth.
And all these things contribute to a more stable
and stronger social network.
And that was really the difference between me and them
was a stronger social network.
My biggest worry when someone would see this play
was that they would think,
"Oh, this doesn't happen to everyone.
This doesn't happen to kids that are on the right path."
When both of us are college educated,
we both graduated high school.
We are very educated. It happens to anybody.
It's all circumstantial.
Genuinely from this project,
I hope people just understand that no matter
what walk of life, what way you look,
you can't judge someone by their color or their situation.
You don't judge a book by its cover.
Everyone is worth something.
Well, what I hope to happen by sharing my story
through the play is that
it kind of inspires other people to ask for help
and not be so sheltered with it.
Like, there are people willing to help you
if you just ask for it.
You know, after this story was published
inThe L.A. Times, it was mostly a really positive response.
People wanting to hear more about the program,
people wanting to volunteer for the program.
There's also been a negative response.
And the way that that's been posited has primarily
been people saying,
"Why don't these homeless people just go back
to where they came from? We should send them back."
And when I've heard that, I thought, you know,
this is exactly why I'm telling this story,
because this story brings up that question.
Not only who do we let into our home,
but who do we let into our community?
And I can't think of a more important question.
This is a story a lot of people will relate to.