Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Gotta Find a Home by Dennis Cardiff - BookReview





I was very curious about this book, Gotta Find a Home. Conversations with Street People by Dennis Cardiff. The title and the description of the book were the things that caught my attention. However, for some reason, the beginning was pretty rocky. It made me wonder if maybe this is the sort of book that you read in slices, a bit now, a bit later, a bit tomorrow. It depicts, after all, pieces of people's lives; it's not fiction, but real life. But as I read, I was curious how those lives evolved and in the same time I was wondering if their lives could be more static. It felt like a slow read probably because it was written like a journal, with dates and months written before every entry. Through a journal you don't rush, you take in every day.

But first things first: this book is about panhandlers, about homeless people. They live in Toronto. The information about their lives is gathered by Dennis, the author and the narrator of the book. He worked near the meeting place of the panhandlers. There's a group that keeps showing up in the book, the usual suspects as they are referred to. There are also some other names that are brought up. It's a really vast universe. It was a bit tricky to keep up with all those names, but you soon realise that those who are the real "characters" are quickly etched into your mind. 

Every panhandler has a distinct personality. So different. I must admit that I started this book curious, but in the same time with a baggage of judgment towards these people. I started with the ideas that most people have when they have to get in contact, even for the briefest of moments, with panhandlers and homeless: once an addict, always an addict. While this is not whipped away in the book, I like that they are given the chance to show why they are in the situation they are in at the moment. I'm not giving them excuses, but it's nice to see a different perspective on things. I definitely didn't expect such a wide spectrum of backgrounds. Some of the people in the group came from a respectful background, some attended college [It seems funny now, thinking that I would have gone into law, since nearly everything I do is illegal. -- Irene], some had families, kids, jobs and bosses waiting for them when they decided to go back. If you're looking for a reason why they chose the life on the streets to the life "back home", this book isn't giving you one. Probably more than justifying them, it just aims to offer a look into their lives. 

My favourite thing about this book is the narrator's attitude through all this. I love that rather than giving them money, he is quicker to offer breakfast cards, coffee, is willing to buy them breakfast. He helps them in a practical way, serving their needs rather than their wants. This probably sounds harsh, but it's how I see things. I was glad to see that the narrator avoids talking or even writing his thoughts about the panhandlers from a right or bad point of view. Another aspect I loved so much is that he wasn't trying to interfere in their lives; he doesn't adopt a Good Samaritan attitude, or better said the attitude of a social worker. He's there just to chat, ask questions (but not intrusive ones). He accepts them and is not a controlling outsider. This was really refreshing to see, for some reason. I’m not trying to control his life, or give him my opinion of what I think he should do. I’m trying to enable him to have more control of his life, the way he wants it.

Throughout the book I couldn't help but see the panhandlers as the members of a different world within the world of the everyday normality. There are intertwined relationships forming and breaking every day, week, month, year. It's the learning about the fellow panhandler through the grapevine, what other said, but soon is proved to be not that accurate... It's a wonder, really. It's the world of the regulars who've been in the same place for years, but in the same time the world of the passer-by who's just looking for his place in the panhandling world. It's the world in which good does triumph over bad, panhandlers helping one another through bad times. It's a fairy-tale like world, with bad characters and good characters, but unlike the classic fairy tales, you don't know for sure that good will conquer the bad gradually, as you turn the pages. It's the day by day real life. It’s like a daily soap opera, lives and loves exposed for all to see. But few have eyes to see beyond the façade.

 It’s nice waking up in the morning. If I don’t, I know something’s wrong. (Little Jake)


I still have some holding backs, but this book gave me a new pair of lenses to look at both panhandlers and people in general. As for their addictions, I understand that drinking and drugs are a way to deal with all the bad stuff, the shortcomings, a way to get numb. But numbness doesn't always help the pain inside, as one of the regulars said. I consider these people full-rights adults who could take care for themselves legally. With all the help they get, I do believe they could change their lives. In some cases (not in all, I am aware some cases are really serious), it's a matter of choice.

I was given a paperback copy of this book to review through Book Blogger List, by the author Dennis Cardiff. All thoughts expressed in this review are my own.

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