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Resident Leads Writing Workshop for People Experiencing Homelessness

January 7, 2020
by Constance Farrell

Resident Leads Writing Workshop for People Experiencing Homelessness

Marc Morgenstern is a 12-year Santa Monica resident and former chair of the Santa Monica Library Board. Last year he started a writing workshop to create a space for people experiencing homelessness to come together and write. Here’s a Q&A with Marc about Write Place.


How did you first get the idea to start Write Place?

As the past chair of the Santa Monica Library Board, I knew how our libraries offered a safe environment, dedicated social workers, and mental health and other referrals to those experiencing homelessness.  As a volunteer teacher at UCLA’s Word Commandos, a writing workshop for veterans suffering from PTSD at the West LA VA, I saw firsthand how creative writing can help homeless individuals find their voice and articulate their feelings in a therapeutic way. Those two experiences met to become the inspiration for Write Place. The Library administration was immediately receptive to starting a pilot program.

What was your initial goal with the project?

Despite the challenges homeless individuals face on the streets, my initial goal was to get our participants writing in whatever format they preferred--song lyrics, play, poem, memoir, or fiction. In our first sessions, we focused on creating a trusting atmosphere where everyone could feel free to share their work for feedback. The writing soon started to flow from their composition books, inspired in part by readings and discussions of short stories by writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Alice Walker and Tobias Wolff. We hope to hold a public reading at the library in the spring to share our Write Place work with the world.

What have participants taught you?

The participants have taught me how kind and supportive they can be for each other. They consistently give constructive and thoughtful feedback on each other's writing, such as how to improve dialogue or refine the rhythm of a song lyric. But beyond the writing, they often share food and clothing, as well as advice on how to stay safe and warm on the streets. I've also learned that these writers don't solely define themselves by their homelessness. They have so many things they want to say through their writing.

How has your perspective on homelessness changed through this experience?

I've learned that people fall into homelessness for all kinds of reasons, ranging from health problems to family issues to economic distress. No one wants to be homeless, but the line between sleeping on the street or under a roof is a very thin one. I've also come to understand how vital our libraries are as a refuge for many.

If you could share one thing with your neighbors about homelessness what would it be?

It's so easy for the homeless to feel invisible in a city full of people in a hurry. Look them in the eye. Say good morning. Small, humane gestures mean far more than you may know.

What’s your perspective on the Library’s role in addressing homelessness?

From family literacy to technology education to event hosting, the Santa Monica Public Library has always filled gaps in our civic fabric. It's no wonder that we would also plunge in to help address what many consider the City's most pressing current issue: homelessness. As long as each library patron adheres to the code of conduct, everyone can find a place to read, relax and learn in our branches. But those identifying as homeless need more, and the Library provides it: social service support, referrals, a safe environment, and even a writing class. Like all the City's homeless programs, we nudge the homeless towards improved living situations. At the end of the day, the Library's overall mission is to help uplift all its patrons.

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