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NO PLACE LIKE HOME

by Lenise Willis

Some nights Ronald and Natalie Johnson would peer into the window of their old home””the one they built from the ground up””and watch as the new owner stripped it of their personalities. They wondered, before they returned to their niece’s tiny apartment, if they would ever re-claim the house they lost.

The Johnson family””a respectable and Lenise Willis respected family””never thought they would become homeless. No one ever does. But after Ronald had heart complications, they found Contributing themselves on a downward spiral. columnist “The people you thought you could talk to”” that you could trust””weren’t there,” Ronald said. Both he and his wife, Natalie, along with their two sons Jerron and Tyler learned first-hand of the emotional, social and financial challenges of being homeless.

They didn’t just lose the house they designed. They lost their social status, their friends and their pride “People were talking behind our backs,” said Natalie, who comments that it was the gossip and the teasing of her sons’ schoolmates that hurt the most. The one thing they didn’t lose was faith.

Their story is one of many that inspired Miller Lucky, Jr., an associate professor of theatre at A&T State University, to write the original play, No Dwelling: Homeless in America.

“The end result is to hopefully widen the perceptions about homelessness,” Lucky said. “There are people with jobs who are homeless; there are professors who are homeless. You’d be surprised.”

The play uses real-life stories to discuss what it means to be homeless, what the various causes are and the different perspectives. Lucky says the play certainly doesn’t “paint a pretty picture” about homelessness and is very honest.

His play, like Natalie and Ronald’s story, illustrates just how deep homelessness can cut””deeper than just a financial fear””and that it can happen to anyone””not just “lazy bums” or alcoholics.

“That’s America’s problem,” Lucky said about the typical response and false perceptions. “We see the signs but we’re not investigating. A sign is something that is a warning. Why aren’t we looking at homeless signs and wondering what’s going on with that?”

Lucky, who spent more than a year interviewing the homeless and researching homelessness in Guilford County, said he was first inspired to take action after seeing an old friend and role model from high school on the streets. He had formerly been a star athlete, and now he was living on the street, waving and pointing in the air at nothing.

“I finally decided I wasn’t going to sit back and ignore it; I was going to investigate and find out what’s going on there,” Lucky said.

Lucky’s play falls in line with Chancellor Harold L. Martin, Sr. ‘s Points of Pride, which supports the school’s involvement in community outreach.

The production will not only raise awareness for homelessness and the works of Greensboro Urban Ministry, but it will also raise funds, and even socks for the cause.

“I found out in researching what things helped beyond money and you’d be surprised, they love socks,” Lucky said, which is why they’ll collect donations to give out socks to the homeless.

Lucky also plans on adding a line in the play in support of the school’s local Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, which hosts an annual sleep-in. Fraternity brothers gather on the house’s lawn once each year and sleep in sleeping bags to both raise awareness and collect canned goods for various food pantries.

“You get to know for one night what homeless people go through,” said Shaquille Martin, a participating fraternity brother. “Except they don’t have their friends at night (like we did).”

“It reminds us that we’re blessed, and we still have work to do,” added Amiri Fanning, another participating fraternity brother.

It is estimated that 949 individuals, 201 of which are children, experience homelessness on any given night in the Triad area. The Guilford County Schools system reported in 2012-13 2,277 students experienced homelessness. Miller pointed out that homeless applies to anyone without their own permanent dwelling. Even those crashing from one relative to another are considered homeless, or “couch surfers.” !

WANNA go?

No Dwelling: Homeless in America runs April 16-19; April 23-26 at the Paul Robeson Theatre, 1601 E. Market St., Greensboro. Tickets are $15 general admission. For tickets and more information visit ncataggies.com or call 334-7749.

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