Evicted by Matthew Desmond was on several “Best of 2016” lists, but did it deserve the adulation the book received? For me, the answer was yes. Mr. Desmond, who has a PhD in sociology and specialized in the study of poverty, spent a few years living in low income housing with several families and individuals at risk for homelessness. He writes in the afterward that he was trying to find a “process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. Eviction was such a process.”
The stories of these people, often less than a paycheck from homelessness, were devastating. As a well-educated, financially stable person, I had no idea that there were completely insufficient social resources to act as a safety net; that as part of a misconceived community policing effort, landlords could be encouraged to evict women who were the victims of domestic violence (because their 911 calls marked the property as a “problem residence” for which the landlord can be fined). He also does a good job explaining the struggle of the landlords, though frankly it was less easy to relate to them, interestingly enough since I am likely more like the landlords socioeconomically. To me, this is the result of the thorough, and sympathetic treatment that his subjects receive at the hands of Mr. Desmond.
Why do I include this book review on this blog? Partly because I believe it is an amazing book, along the lines of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle that brought the plight of the meat industry and those who worked in it to light, leading to a public outcry and legislation to reform the industry.
Additionally, part of the aim of my blog is to improve wellness among my readers. I strongly believe that empathy is part of a healthy psyche. In fact, lack of empathy is a major part of some mental health disorders and personality disorders. Studies recently have shown that our empathy is improved when we consider a few individuals, which makes it easier to conceptualize and personalize a situation. This is likely part of the reason that many people were not as concerned about Syria and the mass killings in Aleppo- 500,000 dead was too many for our minds to wrap around. Reading a book like this, with a few faces of poverty can help us put our own issues in perspective (I have never had to choose between rent and keeping the house warm or feeding my children!) and lead us to take productive, decisive action as citizens of our communities, country and world.