The weather is getting colder here in Michiana but not everyone has a warm place to call home. A group of women are using theater to show people what it’s like being homeless in South Bend.
Residents crowded into a community center in the Near Northwest Neighborhood over the weekend to watch a theater production called “Tracy Talks.” It was a stage reading written by someone who had experienced homlessness in South Bend.
Clara Ross wrote the script based on people she met during her time as a homeless woman.
“For the women who are actually living this life, to tell their own stories, it’s kind of too painful for them.”
Ross had seven women from South Bend perform the characters, some who had experienced homelessness themselves.
She said women on the streets face more than being hungry and cold.
“They’re taken advantage of in every sense of the word, emotionally, sexually, psychologically, physically they’re taken advantage of. They’re a more vulnerable population.”
Vida Harley read for one of the characters. She was homeless on and off in South Bend for about 20 years.
“It’s almost like a real helpless feeling. I used to sit up and just pray ‘God, please just give me a home.’”
Harley and her three children left a home filled with domestic violence when Harley was 19. She stayed at Hope Rescue Mission on Michigan Street for a period of time.
She said the hardships of being homeless are even greater when you’re not only a woman, but also have a family.
“There’s so many dangers out there and my biggest thing was just protecting my children, making sure nothing happened to them.”
She also said South Bend has some good resources for the homeless but not enough to go around.
“I was homeless in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota and they had a lot of more resources for the homeless.”
After the production, some women who were either currently facing homelessness or who have experienced it at some point in their lives, held an open forum with the audience. People asked questions about how to tell the difference between panhandlers looking for drug money and people who really need the help. Audience members also asked if blankets were something that could easily fit in their backpacks or if those often got left behind.
The interest that the community showed gave Ross an idea for another event. It’s called the “Tracy Experience” and it’ll give people the chance to experience living homeless in South Bend for 24 hours in January.
Third district council member Sharon McBride was in the audience. She agrees the City could be doing more.
“The more people understand the problem and not thinking that it’s not our problem individually and see it as a community’s problem. We need to make sure we are continuing to reach out and make donations, volunteer, and find housing for women in the City of South Bend.”
McBride also says seeing these issues played out in theater helped her better understand the magnitude of homlessnesses in South Bend. Ross says that was her goal all along - to give homeless women a voice.
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