I recently finished reading the Book Evicted by Matthew Desmond. It was a difficult but valuable read for a few reasons. Difficult because the author so clearly described the living conditions of people in poverty in Milwaukee. He also described how easily people can spiral down when living in these conditions.
It was also difficult to read for me because I feel like I have met these people in the book and been in their houses. I have seen the struggles first hand and was reminded how real they are. I mean, we all like to see ourselves AS good people and help others when we can, but it will take a lot more than what we are currently doing to change this. Which is the essence of my purpose in sharing this blog.
I hate it that Milwaukee is the setting for this book. I know the streets and landmarks described. This book really brings the issue of poverty literally to my backyard. I hate it that poor health is so inextricably linked to poverty. And access to health care is something that is being toyed with by politicians.
I also was provoked by the behavior of those profiting from poor people, a form of exploitation of a vulnerable population. But maybe even more so, it is the way we treat each other, the struggle to have power over one another and the way the power is used so harshly. This is a big reason why this issue is so hard to impact. It is the dark side of human behavior. As one book review observes, “what if the problem with poverty is that it is profitable?”.
I love it that a book like this with such poignant social commentary is a best seller. This makes it valuable because it is a part of the conversation now. I must admit I am a little surprised though that it is being viewed as a scholarly work, and would expect, based on my reading of it, that it would be sparking more outrage and activism.
The book is also valuable in the way it captures the complexity of poverty. While in part, it is simple. Like in any exchange, there are winners and losers. But all of the power in the relationship belongs to the landlord. But through the author’s real life betrayal of individuals, it was also noted how the landlord can also give people a break, like the landlord who brought over groceries to her tenant when they moved in.
Overall, the best way I can summarize the book in one work is sad. And not like the sad. in Donald Trump’s tweets. Sad like so many people are suffering. But as long as there are profits to be made, it won’t stop.
Throughout my career as a Social Worker working with low income people in Milwaukee, I have been struck with the realization, over and over, that many of these people are not that different from me.
Thank you Matthew Desmond for writing this book and bringing the problem out into the open. And thank you Scott and Seth Avett for this song that captures the solution.