A man investigates the lives of the homeless and those who work with them, in an attempt to discover why people become and/or stay homeless.
Mike Tapscott became curious when his retired father decided to spend a substantial chunk of his time volunteering at a homeless shelter. He wanted to understand both why his father thought that devoting his time and energy to this cause was the most worthwhile thing he could be doing, and also why it was that people, even hard workers and well-educated, thoughtful people, became and remained homeless. So he decided to spend some time interviewing staff, volunteers, and clients at the Lodestar Daily Resource Center in Phoenix, Arizona, a program that assists homeless people in finding services and resources. Among other things, he asked each person three questions: “What is the meaning of life?” “What are your thoughts about society and/or societies in general?” and “Who are you?”
The answers to Tapscott’s questions are, in many cases, vividly illuminating, though, as with any questions answered by a diverse group of people, they do not necessarily lead to one coherent conclusion. The structure of the book is built around listening to what people have to say about themselves and their lives, and each individual voice comes through as a clear and substantial personality, not just a statistic. He, and those he talks to, have some thoughtful and interesting insights about the causes of homelessness and about ways in which our society perpetuates or at least does not help the problem. He also challenges the reader to listen to those who have mental illnesses, or histories of crime and drug use, without automatically dismissing everything they have to say because it is not completely rational, or because they have done things others find appalling or repulsive.
Sometimes he brings a bit too much of his own emotional issues – his depression, job loss, and a romantic breakup, for example – to the table. While this can be helpful for perspective, it occasionally feels intrusive. His habit of drawing a “lessons learned” moral from each conversation, too, might come off as somewhat condescending, treating people as sources of inspiration and moral lessons rather than as human beings in their own right. However, this is substantially counterbalanced by the tone of the rest of the interviews, and is therefore only a minor issue.
This is a valuable resource for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of what homelessness is, and additionally offers useful suggestions for concrete ways by which individuals and communities can contribute towards a solution.
HOMELESS HERO is a thoughtful, open-minded and sympathetic consideration of the causes and problems associated with homelessness in our culture.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader.