Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco

Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco

Paperback(Second edition)

$13.50 $15.00 Save 10% Current price is $13.5, Original price is $15. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Usually ships within 6 days

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604863178
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 06/01/2011
Edition description: Second edition
Pages: 180
Product dimensions: 5.86(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.43(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Summer Brenner is the author of 10 books, including I-5, Richmond Tales, and The Soft. She lives in Berkeley, California. Brian Bowes is an illustrator and a designer. He lives in San Francisco.

Read an Excerpt


Homeless in San Francisco

By Summer Brenner, Brian Bowes

PM Press

Copyright © 2011 Summer Brenner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60486-317-8



... and clear. Streaks of thin, gold clouds streamed and looped like ribbons in the wind. The bright colors made the morning look tropical as if the air were hot, but it was cold. Unusually cold. In fact, it was so cold that layers of frost covered everything — patches of grass, native shrubs, tree limbs, Ivy's sleeping bag, and Ivy's hair.

Small fishing boats, returning from a long night at sea, skimmed across the pink and gold reflections of clouds. They passed silently toward their berths — their home on the other side of San Francisco Bay.

From inside her sleeping bag, Ivy studied the boats bumping over the waves. She wondered when she'd have a house again.

"Everything looks as if it belongs somewhere," she sighed aloud.

The rocky boulders looked solid and secure. All the trees appeared to have rooted in the perfect spot. The noisy blue jays and soft flannel doves flitted between branches as if they belonged there. Even the ants, crawling in straight, correct lines beside her, seemed certain where they were going and where they'd been.

Creatures and things alike had a place, but she and her father had almost nothing. They were homeless.

They'd been homeless for almost three months, since they were evicted from their downtown loft. Although not technically a house or apartment or flat, the loft was home — and a magical place to live! There was so much open space that Ivy could roller-skate around the living room, and a hammock hung from the high rafters. There were only two doors for privacy: one to the bathroom and the other to Ivy's room. Cooking, eating, lounging, and playing all took place in the open area. On the roof of the building, they planted a vegetable garden in deep wooden boxes. In San Francisco, vegetables grew all year round.

Poppy didn't own the loft. He rented it. When they first moved in, he asked permission from the landlord to change it. He paid for the supplies. He did the renovations himself.

They lived in the loft for five years, but last November they were told they had to either pay back rent or leave. A month later, two men came to carry off their belongings: tables, chairs, a radio, players for LP records and CDs, their clothes, hundreds of books, a couple of rugs, sheets and towels, a washing machine, toaster, heater, and kitchenware. These were to be placed in storage until Poppy had enough money to pay both the rent — and monthly storage fees.

Fat chance! There wasn't even money to buy food — and no one to turn to for help. Poppy's few friends were almost as broke as they were. Ivy's mother had died when she was a toddler. That family was far away in Australia. Poppy had no brothers or sisters, and he and his father had not been on speaking terms for many years.

Ivy had never met her father's father. He lived across the country on the East Coast. She had no idea why Poppy and his father had such strong disagreements. If she asked Poppy, he said it was too complicated for a child to understand. Ivy knew what that meant — it was too complicated for Poppy. Whenever he avoided something, she had learned it was painful for him and had nothing to do with her.

Poppy's way of handling problems was to paint. He painted and played music whenever he had time. Painting and music made him happy. He taught Ivy how to paint and play music, too. He taught her how to strum a mandolin, pluck out songs on a kalimba, draw with pastels, and paint with watercolors. In the corners of the loft, Poppy and Ivy each had their own art studio.

These lovely things, however, no longer mattered. Since they'd been homeless, what mattered was knowing how to navigate through the city by foot; where to find clean public toilets; where the best free meals were served; and most important for Ivy, how to keep her situation a secret at school.

From her sleeping bag, Ivy stared at the boats and the sailors on deck bundled in warm, woolly caps and coats, their hands covered with thick gloves. From a distance, they all looked friendly.

But another important thing Ivy had recently learned was that almost everyone looked friendly from a distance. On the street, she had to know how to read a person like a book. There were crazy people who were as kind as lambs — and sane people as vicious as rabid dogs. From a distance, it wasn't possible to tell the difference. But if you were homeless, you had to know. That was called "street smarts."

"Good morning, Poppy," she called softly to her father.

Poppy turned over and responded with a snore. His hair, ringleted and ginger-colored like Ivy's, stuck out in all directions. His face was flushed pink; and his chin and cheeks were coated with unshaved stubble, much redder than the hair on his head. He pulled his sweater over his eyes to block the rising sun.

From under the covers, Ivy flung her pale, freckled arms into the air. The cold stung her skin, but she didn't mind. It reminded her of chilly mornings in the mountains when she and Poppy used to camp out. Those were happy times.

Now, they were permanently camping, which was quite a different thing!

Ivy studied the freckles on her hands. She didn't hate them as much as her skeins of ginger-colored hair. She could never brush out all the knots. Even worse than her hair was the bumpy birthmark on her left cheek, shaped like a purple star.

"Where an angel kissed you," Poppy said. "Angels like to mix tiny imperfections with the perfect parts."

Angel or not, Ivy hated her birthmark. On some days, she also hated her nose, and her feet, and her chest, and her knees. She hated that her mother was dead. She hated her grandfather for hating Poppy. She hated her homeless, difficult life.

She curled her fingers and held her eye against them like the shaft of a telescope. Inside the space between her fingers, the boats looked like props in a play. Boats, she imagined, that had come from Pago Pago. Over the Equator they sailed, and a school of silver dolphins followed them in starlight. The captain of the boat could speak to the dolphins.

"Silver dolphins!" she heard her invisible captain call. "Tell me a mystery of the sea." The dolphins answered,

Before there was land, there was only sea. And the creatures — the whale, the porpoise, and me

Walked on earth, and our legs were free.

After Ivy's mother died, she and Poppy traveled around in a van. He made paintings and sold them as they went along. Or he worked at odd jobs: mending roofs and leaky sinks, building cabinets, constructing porches and fences and decks. He could do anything when it came to fixing and making things with his hands.

Most of the time, things were fine. They weren't rich, but there was enough. Poppy said health and freedom were all a person needed. He said money turned even rich men into slaves. "That's what happened to my father," he said.

Their nomadic wanderings stopped when it was time for Ivy to go to school.

"A real school instead of the school of life," Poppy laughed, showing her photographs of San Francisco.

It was the place he had chosen for them to live. Together, they studied the photos of the bridges and Bay, the beautiful hills, the gingerbread houses, the cable cars traveling up and down the steeply pitched streets, and the sailboats and cargo ships that went in and out of the Golden Gate.

When they first arrived, they still lived in their van. Poppy parked it along the Pacific coast until he found their loft in the Mission District of the city. Although their life changed when they settled down, it felt exactly right.

Things started to get hard when Poppy couldn't sell his paintings. Or mend roofs. Or build cabinets. Or construct porches or fences or decks. Suddenly, there was no work anywhere. Nobody had money to build or fix or buy anything.

After they got evicted, Ivy stopped believing their life would ever be right again.

Inside the sleeping bag, she shivered. She shook her arms and stretched her legs. She rotated her feet in the bottom of the bag and wriggled her frozen toes. Her joints were stiff from lying on the hard, rocky ground. Her back and shoulders ached. Her mouth tasted like a soggy mushroom.

She stared at the silky sky. Its pink and gold beauty made her ache with sadness. It was the sadness of feeling alone — the sadness of watching boats coming and going.

She touched her birthmark and whispered softly, "Surely, an angel could have made it a little bit easier for Ivy Elizabeth Katherine Bly."



... caught Ivy's eye. In the light of the sun, it shone like a tiny prism. Then, it blinked. Ivy blinked, too, and stared at the spot.

When it blinked again, she saw it was a black, button-size eye of a small animal, lying very still — a bright orb surrounded by a soft patch of white. Around the white was a fat head of dark fur. White spots were splattered over both body and floppy ears. There was a glossy, wet nose that looked dipped in black ink. Slobber surrounded its mouth and snout. There was no doubt in Ivy's mind. It was a dog!

She raised a foot and took a cautious, quiet step. The animal's hind leg twitched in response. She smiled, and the dog opened his mouth in a toothy grin. She edged toward him, and he scooted his body toward her. His tail thumped wildly back and forth, strong and noisy like a branch bumping the side of a house. Back and forth, back and forth, it thumped and wagged, wagged and thumped.

As Ivy started uphill, the expectant dog lay still except for the tail. She reached down to pet its furry, fluffy head when a voice barked loudly behind her.

"Away from that animal! Right now!"

Ivy stiffened. The dog's tail stopped wagging.

"You hear me?" Poppy shouted as he rolled from his sleeping bag and galloped to Ivy's side, yanking her back to the campsite.

"That dog could be sick!" he cried. "It could bite you to bits!"

Ivy knew Poppy only got angry when he was afraid. Her father used anger to cover up his fears.

"He isn't sick," she reasoned.

"You know nothing about this dog!" Poppy snapped.

Ivy's green eyes darkened. It was her turn to get angry.

She stared at the spotty creature, rolling in the wet leaves. She knew exactly what had frightened her father. Recently, a girl at a homeless shelter had been attacked by a stray dog. She had needed twenty-seven stitches.

"See!" Ivy pointed as the small, chunky dog yawned and collapsed on his hind legs, signaling with his tail once again. "He wants to be our friend."

"Very cute," Poppy admitted, beckoning to it with his hand.

Instantly, the dog bounded toward them, wagging and drooling. His coat was shiny and his gaze clear. His nails were clipped. Although there was no collar or tag, he looked healthy and very well fed.

"See? He's just friendly!" Ivy ventured her opinion again.

Poppy rummaged in a tin box and pulled out a piece of stale bread. He gave a corner to Ivy. He threw another in the air. The dog leapt off four legs and snagged it between his mouth like a Frisbee.

"You can't have a dog," Poppy said, trying to sound gentle and firm at the same time. "You understand?" He ran his fingers through Ivy's tangled locks. "I wish you could, but you can't."

Ivy already knew that. It was difficult enough for the two of them — hard to find a decent place to eat and almost impossible to find a safe place to sleep. Dogs were prohibited at the homeless shelters where they got their meals.

The nicest shelters were reserved for women with children. The shelters for men were places that Poppy tried to avoid. The men were often rowdy or crazy or intoxicated. Sometimes, they made comments about Ivy's abundance of hair or asked Poppy if she was his girlfriend. These questions infuriated Poppy — and embarrassed Ivy. Even in the cold, wintry weather, it was preferable to sleep outdoors.

Anyway, there was no use arguing. Ivy had asked for a dog in the past when they lived in their loft. Poppy had always found an excuse to say, "No."

He repeated, "I wish you could, but you can't."

Ivy turned away. She knew what she had to do. She shook her sleeping bag to get rid of twigs and leaves and bugs. She smoothed and rolled it tightly into a log shape. She tied it around the middle with a bungee cord. She filled a plastic bowl with water from the canteen. She splashed her face. She brushed her teeth. She tried to untangle her hair with a broken comb.

Poppy went through the same motions of shaking, smoothing, and rolling his sleeping bag, splashing his face, brushing his teeth, and encountering the same frustration as Ivy with his hair.

The next order of business was to reach the shelter for breakfast — hot oatmeal if they were early or cereal, bananas, and milk for latecomers. After breakfast, Poppy planned to leave Ivy with one of the homeless mothers while he traipsed over to the unemployment office to check on jobs. If there was nothing available, he'd walk up and down the streets, scouring for HELP WANTED signs. Or he might stand on the corner of Oak and Divisadero where building contractors often came to find day laborers.

If that didn't pan out, he'd scrounge a grocery cart and collect bottles and cans. On the street, there was a lot of competition for bottles and cans, plus a long and tiring walk to one of the recycling centers. Looking for work usually left Poppy depressed and miserable.

Since they'd been homeless, getting to school was extremely difficult. On school days, they had to rise before dawn and get to a shelter before breakfast. The restrooms were always jammed in the early morning. People took turns rinsing in the sink and drying themselves with paper towels.

In the ladies' room, there was generally a crowd, getting ready for work or job interviews. They had to fix their hair, put on make-up, polish their shoes, and try to improve their appearance by stretching out the wrinkles in their clothes with their hands. They had to go out, pretending they weren't homeless.

For Ivy, it was no different. On school days, she had to wait her turn at the sink. She had to brush her hair as best she could and freshen up her clothes. Then, she had to go to school — pretending.

Except to Leon, her best friend, Ivy never mentioned what had happened to her and her father. She never explained why her friends weren't invited over to the loft to visit; or why her telephone no longer worked; or why she was often absent and almost always late. Even when the principal called Ivy to her office to discuss her tardiness, she made up a string of excuses.

One day at school, the class had a project called HABITAT. They had to match groups of animals with the places they lived: lairs, caves, burrows, nests, warrens, and dens. They had to check the correct box if their own family lived in a house, flat, apartment, boat, or car.

"Who lives in a car?" one of Ivy's friends sneered.

Ivy instantly reddened. A forest or cave might best describe the places she'd been sleeping lately. At school that day, Ivy lied. She checked HOUSE.

After all, her grandfather Bly had a large house in New Jersey, a ski cabin in Utah, and a roomy cottage on the coast of Florida.

Maybe, it wasn't such a big lie, she told herself. At least, there were houses in the family.

Poppy held out a crushed box of raisins. "Want some?" he asked her.

Ivy didn't want dry, hard raisins or stale bread or sleeping bags or cold nights. She wanted a house — and she wanted a dog!



... on a backpack frame bent to fit her shoulders. Poppy carried the other gear. Stuffed into a pack were a few utensils, cans of food, a box of dry milk, a flashlight, candles, and matches. Water bottles, a pot, and a frying pan hung off the side of the pack. Each toted a small suitcase with personal belongings. Poppy also slung a metal box over his shoulder that was filled with carpentry tools so he was ready to work at anytime.

In Ivy's suitcase were her treasures: a red Swiss Army knife with three different blades and a tiny plastic toothpick, a box of paints, a wallet with her library card, a pad of drawing paper, and a calligraphy pen. There were a few clothes and an extra pair of shoes. Wrapped in tissue was her prized possession — three obsidian rocks that she had had with her since the day she and Poppy spread her mother's ashes on Mount Shasta.

As they started off, Ivy turned to say a final good-bye to the dog. She scanned the hill and gully and the base of the trees, but he was gone. Disappointed, she trudged up the embankment toward the city.

"That dog was good luck!" Ivy said, wishing she could hear the friendly thump of his tail once more.

"Who knows what luck means these days?" Poppy sighed.

"I do!" Ivy insisted. "You can't count on luck, but if you have a rabbit's foot or four-leaf clover or even a clever dog, you can call up your luck. I know it, Poppy! I bet you find a job today!" Ivy whirled in all directions. "Now, where did he run off to?"

Turning back, she lost her footing. The backpack frame slid off her shoulders. Her suitcase flew open. She tottered, tripped, and then tumbled down the side of a gully, knocking her head on the edge of a rock.


Excerpted from Ivy by Summer Brenner, Brian Bowes. Copyright © 2011 Summer Brenner. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1 The February sky was pink and glazed ...,
CHAPTER 2 Up the hill, something round and glistening ...,
CHAPTER 3 Ivy strapped the two sleeping bags and tarps ...,
CHAPTER 4 Poppy deduced that the best route out ...,
CHAPTER 5 Inside the porch, Ivy and Poppy wove their way ...,
CHAPTER 6 I have talked both ye ears off, Miss Orr sighed ...,
CHAPTER 7 Oscar Orr backed his powder-blue 1954 Cadillac ...,
CHAPTER 8 Poppy pointed to Ivy slumped in the backseat ...,
CHAPTER 9 At the Buena Vista Center, breakfast was served ...,
CHAPTER 10 The rain pounded the city ...,
CHAPTER 11 It was dawn again ...,
CHAPTER 12 Do you think she'll call the police?,
CHAPTER 13 As Poppy and Ivy jumped out of the car ...,
CHAPTER 14 The dishes were washed and dried ...,
CHAPTER 15 We have to be off or Poppy will worry ...,
CHAPTER 16 Maybe, next time, Rachel called ...,
CHAPTER 17 I've got them! Ivy shouted ...,
CHAPTER 18 Ivy used to believe her father could do anything ...,
CHAPTER 19 The policeman pushed Dice away ...,
CHAPTER 20 That's better, Officer Harmon said ...,
CHAPTER 21 The phone at the shelter rang a dozen times ...,
CHAPTER 22 Officer Harmon sped through the streets ...,
CHAPTER 23 I guess I didn't behave very well ...,
CHAPTER 24 Not going so soon! the signora stammered ...,
CHAPTER 25 It was quite a homecoming ...,
CHAPTER 26 Ivy lay on a window seat, tossing her three rocks ...,
CHAPTER 27 With the help of Signora Quartuccio ...,
CHAPTER 28 I can't find him, Oscar said ...,
CHAPTER 29 Ivy unzipped her lovely dress ...,
CHAPTER 30 The old Cadillac ambled majestically up the highway ...,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Literary_Classics_Reviews More than 1 year ago
Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco, is a delightful book with an important message. Following her mother's death, young Ivy and her father are evicted from their home in San Francisco. Ivy does her best to keep her homelessness a secret to most of her friends at school; yet, her secret is not easily kept. Ivy and her father, Poppy, encounter many wonderful and caring people as they struggle to survive. But they also encounter many people who make inaccurate assumptions about them, often causing them great harm in their quest to rise from the desperation of their current situation. Often witty, occasionally heart-wrenching, this book offers insight into the lives of those who must endure living in shelters and on the streets. Summer Brenner's account of a homeless girl and her father living on the streets is both revealing and heartwarming.