Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Homeless at Harvard by John Christopher Frame

book cover
Homeless at Harvard
by John Christopher Frame

ISBN-13: 9780310318675
Trade Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Released: August 6, 2013

Source: Review copy from the publisher through

Book Description, Modified from Booksneeze:
Harvard Square is at the center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at the heart of Harvard University. In recent years, it’s become a gathering place for the city’s homeless. While taking his a summer course at Harvard, John Frame stepped outside the walls of academia and onto the streets, pursuing a different kind of education with his homeless friends. While Frame talks about his experiences, he also allows his homeless friends to share their stories and thoughts, providing insider perspectives of life as homeless people see it.

My Review:
Homeless at Harvard is a memoir about a young man who lived among the homeless community at Harvard Square to better understand homelessness. He was taking a summer course at Harvard and had access to campus facilities, but he spent his free time on the streets and he slept on the streets. Much of the book was about his experiences on the street and about his childhood, but he also shared the stories of some of his homeless friends and included some of their thoughts "in their own words."

The writing was somewhat disjointed, though usually it wasn't hard to follow. The author would start the chapter talking about an experience he had while on the street--like learning to beg for money--and then he'd jump to a story from his past or to some thoughts he had about how he wasn't really homeless even though he was sleeping on the streets. Then he'd continue the original story. He also sometimes contradicted himself or the homeless people would--like someone said the homeless aren't all addicts or mentally ill, yet a few chapters later someone said they were.

I don't feel like I gained insight into why people are homeless, but I did learn some things about homeless people. The homeless in Harvard Square only lacked for homes--not food, not medical care, not alcohol or drugs, not lottery tickets, not cell phones or grills or digital cameras. A few of those begging money even had homes! Many were addicts. Even those who didn't think they were mentally ill didn't have an accurate grasp of reality, though sometimes that appeared to be a product of their upbringing. They had a very works-oriented, confused view of God, and even the author didn't view God as sovereign (i.e. in control of everything).

The author's conclusion was that spending time with the homeless and treating them like people will do more good than giving them your pocket change. The book didn't really show that to be true, but it is clear that giving them money doesn't help. So spending time is worth a try.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

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