En Garde Arts Presents Uncommon Voices

S1 E9 | FULL EPISODE

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.

AIRED: August 05, 2020 | 0:13:26
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TRANSCRIPT

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.

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