“We Got a Phone Call That Our House Had Burned Down”

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Written by Denise Miller, Firesteel Advocacy Manager

Liz Allen’s house went up in flames when she was 13, and her family lost nearly all their belongings. Her mom tried to spin the following weeks as an adventure — their family was going to stay in a hotel with a pool! But the challenges of instability eventually weighed heavy, and grief struck on a night when Liz didn’t expect it.

Liz shared her story in October at the “Talk It Up: Stories of Home, Lost & Found” event hosted by the nonprofit organization Building Changes. Earlier in 2015, Liz joined the “Home: Lost and Found” workshop, where storytelling experts from The Moth taught her to share her experience as a brief, compelling story.

At the “Talk It Up” event, I had the opportunity to record stories from Liz and two other storytellers, as well as a discussion moderated by Barry Mitzman from Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness.

Behind the camera, I found myself tearing up more than once as the storytellers shared painful and deeply personal moments from their lives. The part of Liz’s story that moved me most came in the panel discussion, when she talked about the instability she felt after losing her home.

Liz said that after the fire, her family bounced around rental homes throughout her high school years. They were economically privileged; her dad had solid work, and they always had a safe place to stay. Still, not having a stable home was hard on her.

“I was a really good student. But all of a sudden when you only have this one bag, my grades dropped. I really struggled in school despite having pretty much every advantage,” Liz said in the discussion. “The instability — even when you have cushion, and you have a safety net — is still incredibly challenging.”

She’s brought that perspective to her current work as an attorney specializing in child welfare and K-12 education law. Liz has also advocated for public policies that help ensure students who are experiencing homelessness get the education they deserve.

More than 35,000 Washington schoolchildren don’t have a stable home, and, as Liz pointed out, are much less likely to graduate high school compared to their housed peers.

“Everyone deserves a fair shot, and I think the students need more support,” Liz said.

Further reading

  • Read Firesteel stories about student and youth homelessness, including a firsthand account from a young man who studied for the SAT while living in a shelter.
  • Learn about Columbia Legal Services Children & Youth Project‘s work to improve opportunities for Washington’s children and youth to have safe and stable families and homes, quality education, health care, and economic stability.
  • Read about the Washington Youth & Families Fund, a public-private partnership led by Building Changes that is dedicated to making youth and family homelessness in Washington state rare, brief, and non-recurring.

Watch more personal stories

  • Come back to the Firesteel blog to watch two more stories we recorded at the “Talk It Up” event. On April 12, we’ll share Timothy Bell’s story about escaping a violent home as a child. And on April 26, Gretchen Waschke talks about receiving an eviction notice.
  • You can also visit The Moth’s YouTube page to watch stories recorded at their “Home: Lost and Found” April 2015 showcase.

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