Betsy Hoium, Pastor for Faith Formation

Evicted by Matthew Desmond  —  Book Review by Pastor Betsy

Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City is the book we are discussing on May 5 and 12 at the Adult Forum. I picked up a copy of the book recently, thinking this sounds like something I should read.  It is a non-fiction account of eight families who live in poverty, finding themselves homeless on multiple occasions.

As I dove into the book, I quickly discovered that even though it is non-fiction, it reads much like a novel. Desmond, who is a sociologist, brings these stories to life and it feels like we get to know both the tenants who are living on the edge and the landlords who invest in inner city properties.

It is the story of a single mom who is trying to raise her two youngest sons (the older 4 had been taken by Child Protective Services) on a limited income. How she has to be creative to find them places to live or people to stay with and how often the kids had to change schools. It is the story of neighbors living in a mobile home park that the city is threatening to close down. It is the story of having your utilities turned off and having to make decisions about paying rent or buying your children shoes for school. Of living in conditions where the sink or the toilet does not function, but not wanting to contact the landlord because you’ll probably get evicted for being behind on rent. And of eight people crowding into a one-bedroom apartment. 

Partway through the book, I felt helpless. The problems are so complex. It isn’t just struggling to pay the rent and fear of eviction. It is layers of issues: low wages, losing a job or having your hours cut, living in substandard conditions, discrimination, violence, addiction, trying to get space in a homeless shelter, unwanted pregnancy, health issues, lack of public housing, lack of funding for programs like rent vouchers and so many other things that contribute to systemic poverty. Where do we even begin to sort through this? What can we do to ensure that people have at least certain basic needs met?

In the Epilogue: Home and Hope, Desmond provides some of those ideas. Other countries provide the right to counsel not just for criminal cases, but also in civil cases. Should housing be considered a basic right like public education and Social Security is? 

Two of the people who Desmond has introduced us to go on to find a way to break the cycle of poverty, to find stable housing and to get an education. In stories like this we get glimpses of hope and how God truly is at work in our world.

I encourage you to read this compelling book and to join us for discussions on May 5 and 12!