Thursday, 5 July 2018

Looking at Teenage Homelessness by Miriam Halahmy

Today I have the great pleasure of having Miriam Halahmy as my guest here. Miriam is the author of the award winning novel Hidden, which is currently being staged for the theatre, and her new teen/ young adult novel Behind Closed Doors will be published by Firefly in July.

Over to Miriam Halahmy:

My new novel, Behind Closed Doors, ( Firefly Press, July 2018) explores what home means. What should a home provide and what happens to young people when home is no longer a safe place? The book is in the voices of two fifteen year old girls, Josie Tate and Tasha Brown, who go to the same school but are not friends.

Josie’s mother calls herself a collector and she is saving the planet by ‘recyling’ and rescuing things which are thrown away.

Do you collect anything? I collect fossils, books and motto ware pottery -


Paula Salischiker
Inside all of us there is a little collector but when a collection gets out of hand it can look like this:-

Paula Salischiker

In reality Josie’s mother is a hoarder. As the book opens, Josie is already saving up to move out. When she returns home from school in Chapter 1 she finds that mum has finally taken over her room and filled it to the ceiling. Her bedroom was Josie’s last place of refuge in a home stuffed to the brim. 

Paula Salischiker
The kitchen has been a no-go area for five years and the bathroom has only the toilet and half the sink in use. Josie showers in the PE block at school. Children of hoarders often leave home by the time they are fourteen or fifteen years old, rendering them homeless and vulnerable at a very young age.

Photographer Geoff Johnson was forced to move out of his mother’s house as a teenager. He has created an amazing and very moving series of photos to show what it was like as a child in a hoarder home. You can view the photos and read the article at this link :

Tasha’s mother provides a neat clean home, regular meals and all the trappings a teenage girl would wish for; clothes, laptop, phone, WiFi, pocket money. But Tasha’s mum has a new boyfriend and he is starting to take an unhealthy interest in Tasha. Finally one night during a terrible thunder storm, Tasha has to run to keep herself safe. Her mother ignores the issue.

Tasha finds herself outside Josie’s door. Josie and her mother never open the door or let anyone into the house but Tasha manages to get inside. This is the start of an unlikely friendship between these two girls, both threatened with homelessness and both without the safety net of responsible parents/carers.
“We stare at each other and in that moment everything between us changes. Tasha with the mum who doesn't protect her and me with the mum in prison, neither of us with a proper home."

According to the Joseph Rowntree Association, around 75,000 young people contact homeless services each year. The main trigger for youth homelessness is relationship breakdown. Young people are so vulnerable on the streets that some schools have even opened accommodation for pupils forced out of home. Many young people ‘sofa surf’– sleep on a friend’s couch – to avoid sleeping rough.

In 1966, the film, Cathy Come Home, by Ken Loach was shown on British TV. It depicted the slide into homelessness by a young couple and the loss of their children into Care. The film shocked the nation and the charity, Shelter, was set up the following year to help the homeless.

This film triggered a lifelong concern in me for homeless people. I initiated fund raising events for Shelter as a young person. As a teacher I worked in the Kings Cross area in the 1980s, notorious for horrible bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless families. Mothers would tell me how they were often placed on a different floor to their teenage children. I have also run writing workshops for homeless people and listened to their stories.

An Nabeshima, 17 yrs, from Japan, comments, This book has completely changed my way of grasping the word 'home' will realise what 'home' is and where your real 'home' is by the end.

Behind Closed Doors looks at the issue of modern teenage homelessness and asks, where do you go when home is no longer a safe place?

Huge thank you to Miriam for coming on the blog today and talking about her book. I was lucky to get an advance copy of Behind Closed Doors, so I've read this amazing book. It will be published on July 12th by Firefly Press, and is available for pre-order now, so don't miss it!


Anne Booth said...

This looks like another wonderful book by Miriam. It is beautiful that she is writing books which respect and represent the experience of children who are not normally found in mainstream fiction and are ignored in life.

Chitra Soundar said...

An important theme to explore and talk about. Hope children seek help if they are at risk after reading the book. Thanks for sharing Miriam (and Savita)

Lynne Benton said...

I love Miriam's books - will look forward to reading this one!