DOWNTOWN — Frances Noble became so hyper aware of the multitude of homeless women that populate the streets of Santa Monica while she was working on her latest book, “Blanket of Stars,” that she stopped walking by, let alone going to, public parks.
“We saw these women and talked to them for days and days and days, and they became so visible that I stopped walking in the parks for a while,” she said.
Now, after the book’s release early in July, she is able to bring herself to sit on a bench in Palisades Park, where the homeless can be seen in any direction.
Noble, a Santa Monica-based author who has previously volunteered to help the homeless, wrote “Blanket of Stars” to help bring humanity to the thousands of homeless women that populate the streets of Santa Monica. The book follows a career that includes novels inspired by her partial Arab American heritage.
Noble was born in Pasadena, but moved out to Santa Monica 41 years ago to avoid the smog. Noble enjoys living in Santa Monica, but said she often thinks about moving away to some place less populated and quieter in northern California. She would stay on the coast, though. But while she does live here, her favorite thing to do is it to walk around town, specifically through the allies.
“Walking, gardening, reading, politics,” she said of her interests outside of writing.
Noble’s first two books were a collection of short stories and a novel about Arab Americans. Though she herself is part Arab, she said she has never faced any issues or discrimination, partially because she looks more like her Irish mother and partially because she said discrimination against Arabs was not as prevalent when she was growing up.
“Nobody even knew what the Middle East was when I was growing up,” she said.
Her latest book, “Blanket of Stars,” tells short stories of the individual homeless women Noble interviewed. The stories include photographs taken by her son, Ian Noble, an architectural and fine art photographer.
“Our main point was to make these women visible, women who are usually invisible, and to document their lives so that they won’t be forgotten,” she said.
Noble began the process of interviewing in 2005 with the intention of covering all homeless people in Santa Monica, male or female. But she quickly realized that plan was too grandiose, so she narrowed her focus to women.
Noble said she decided to focus on women because they have extra concerns with living on the street, such as safety from aggressive men. She also had concerns about her own safety when interviewing homeless men.
“Some of the men appeared to me too dangerous to interview,” she said. “An unstable paranoid schizophrenic male is different from an unstable paranoid schizophrenic female. They are much more prone to violence, it seems to me. We found ourselves backing away several times.”
Noble’s publisher, Paddy Calistro of Angel City Press, said she thinks the book turned out beautifully and would work with Noble again.
“Frances is highly intelligent. I’m impressed with the thought and time she puts into social causes,” Calistro said. “She researched and researched and researched for this book.”
Through her research, Noble discovered Ocean Park Community Center’s Daybreak, a homeless shelter specifically for women with long-term debilitating mental illness. A portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Daybreak.
“She took so much time and developed relationships with these women so that they trusted her,” said Amy Turk, the project director of Daybreak. “Little change won’t happen without trust. We never anticipated having a financial gain from this book. We just thought Frances was communicating a needed story.”