Food and Shelter is a play about a homeless family that breaks apart after spending a night in Disneyland’s Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. Jane Anderson wrote it back in the late 1980s, when people without houses were called “deadbeats,” “derelicts,” and “bums.” While our language has changed, the problem of homelessness in the world’s richest country has not.
A performance of Food and Shelter will take place Friday, November 1, at the New Vic (33 W. Victoria St.) for the New Beginnings Counseling Center’s annual fundraiser. Among other shelter services, New Beginnings administers Santa Barbara’s Safe Parking Program, which provides overnight parking for people living in cars and RVs. Anderson, who last year won an Emmy for writing the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge, answered our questions about Food and Shelter and why its message is still so important today.
What inspired you to write Food and Shelter? What was going on in your life at the time? What was going on in America? I was compelled to write Food and Shelter after I had read Rachel and Her Children by Jonathan Kozol, an incredibly eloquent, compassionate examination of the plight of homeless people in America. He wrote the book in 1988, when baffling numbers of people were ending up on the streets. Kozel put a human face on the issue. He wrote about families who had been just one paycheck away from financial ruin. He wrote about families who had no alternative but to live in their cars. He wrote about the soul-crushing loneliness of living on the edge of society. The book shook me up.
How have you seen attitudes and policies around homelessness change since then? Or not change? When I wrote the play, I hoped that there’d be some solution to income inequality in this country. Twenty years later, I’m sorry to say that my play is more relevant than ever.
We recently reported on a proposed Santa Barbara law to impound homeless people’s property on city streets. What’s your reaction to that? This is just another example of treating the homeless as an eyesore. You can’t just clear out the tents and the carts. But this program could actually be used as a service instead of a punishment. Instead of impoundment and forced removal, set up sites around the city where they can safely park their worldly possessions.
How does the play fit with the mission of New Beginnings? My play is about how the strain of homelessness breaks a family apart. New Beginnings keeps families together by giving them the shelter and counseling they need.
What do you hope the Santa Barbara audience will take away from the upcoming production? There are men, women, and children out there skirting the edges of your town, needing a safe place to sleep, a hot meal, to feel clean, and above all, to be seen.
For information and tickets, visit sbnbcc.org.