Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Catching Homelessness

My school year hasn't begun yet and I already have work to do! Each year the School of Public Health chooses a common book. This year the book is Catching Homelessness: A Nurse's Story of Falling Through the Safety Net by Josephine Ensign. It's a quick read that's fairly engaging; it only took me a couple days to read through it. The SPH provides a reading guide of questions to consider while reading, which I haven't yet looked at but will try to peruse before the SPH orientation where discussion of the book with the author is the main event.

Here are my initial thoughts on the book:

This book was an engaging and interesting read. It jumps around a bit, so it can be easy to lose where you are in the author's timeline, though she sometimes recaps information she's already told you which helps you reorient yourself again (I occasionally got impatient with the recaps though - you already told us this, why are you writing it out again as though you haven't?!).

The author doesn't delve deeply into the reasons for homelessness or how effective our efforts toward it are. I'm rather ambivalent about this approach. For instance, she would mention the closure of state mental health facilities or the Vietnam War, but only spend a few sentences on them, almost just mentioning them in passing. She offered little opinion on these events or even information about how they impacted the homeless populations. This was frustrating at times, but could also be seen as her providing more of a jumping off point for people's independent research.

Also fascinating is reading along as she details her own life unraveling. I suppose this is more the true focus of the book - telling stories of the homeless people she worked with and then using her own experience to show just how easily everything can fall apart. The author was able to get her life back in control, and again she talks about this in passing - she realized she needed to leave the South and then talks very little about the work needed to make this happen. This could come across as a bit flippant about how easily it is to improve one's situation, though I don't think the author intends it to. Again, it would have been an opportunity to discuss the impediments to leaving homelessness, but the author doesn't take you there.

Overall, an easy, interesting, and I think worthwhile read. It's not going to provide opinions for you or give you all the information about the myriad of things that impact homelessness, but can be a great starting point for not only further thought and research, but also increased sympathy for those who find themselves without a safety net.

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