North Bay playwright inspired by Petaluma homeless encampment

For many people, when they drive past a homeless encampment or encounter a hungry person asking for spare cash, they quickly choose from a very short list of actions: looking the other way, offering help, writing letters to public officials or making a mental note to “do something” in the future.

When Petaluma writer Nathaniel Roberts met an unhoused woman at Steamer Landing Park earlier this year, he took another approach.

He went home and wrote a play.

“It took me about a month, writing all the time,” Roberts said. His “short-term obsession” fueled his playwriting passion as he brought his drama “Home” to life.

Playwright Nathaniel Roberts revisits Steamer Landing Park by the Petaluma River, where he met an unhoused woman who inspired his play, “Home”. (CRISSY PASCUAL/PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)

“Home” is set in a homeless camp in a large city. It’s not Steamer Landing specifically, but Petaluma’s complex relationship with homelessness is very much at the heart of the drama, Roberts said. Steamer Landing was the site of a sizable encampment that was finally cleared in mid-June, after months of public comment and legal action, both from public officials and encampment residents.

“Look, from the perspective of a person who is housed, I’ve had all the same thoughts and feelings and attitudes about the homeless that a lot of people do,” he said. “I’m on my way home from work and I stop at a light, and there’s someone with a cardboard sign there and I’m thinking, ‘Dude, you’re standing out here asking for my money? I just crawled around in an attic all day!’ his circumstances — but that doesn’t stop us from judging him anyway, right?”

[To read the full story in the Petaluma Argus-Courier, click here]

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