Read: as a review copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers (Multnomah Books, 256 pages, originally published in 2005 — however, I read the re-released 5-year anniversary edition)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (finished 12/2/10)
Synopsis: As a college student in Santa Barbara, Yankoski was comfortable with his life. However, listening to a Sunday sermon one morning, he began to wonder whether his faith would remain as strong if his privileged upbringing and typical college existence were taken away. So began his decision to put his faith to the test. After discussing his plans with his family and various advisors, he and a friend took a leave of absence from their studies and their middle-class lives to enter the world of the homeless. They spent five months in 2003 on the streets of Denver; Phoenix; Washington, DC; and other cities. Playing their guitars and panhandling, they relied entirely on charity. The harshness, hunger, dangers, and indignities they faced are reported in detail. They formed friendships with other homeless people and watched many of them struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. Yankoski steers clear of preachy or patronizing tones, and his dry sense of humor makes the book thoroughly readable.
Overall Impression: There are people in this world who do completely ridiculous things, but you have to give them props — they probably learn more than any of the rest of us could learn in a hundred normal lifetimes. I think Mike Yankoski is one of these people. He gave up his comfortable life to see what it was like on the streets with America’s homeless population. He and his friend spent five months without a home on the streets of five US cities. Each was different and they learned different things. Their stories were compelling — they ran across people who cared deeply about America’s homeless population, and were confronted by people who were downright rude (including, sadly, some Christians). It was fascinating to get this in-depth look at some of the people who have ended up homeless. Their stories are heartbreaking — addictions, abuse, prostitution, and abandonment. Yes, people made bad decisions. But a lot of them were never taught to make good decisions so it is hard to fault them.
In his Anniversary Edition preface, Yankoski addresses the one thing that bothered me — he and his friend weren’t able to do much to help the people they were homeless with. When you have no money yourself, it’s hard to help. A lot of the time I wanted them to do something for these people, and they weren’t in a place to. Still, Yankoski has gone on to head some incredible organizations that help a multitude of people, so I think his experience was worth it. He can better connect with people who have hit hard times, and I’m sure his compassion was greatly increased by his project.
Pros: A deeper look into the world of America’s homeless — this book will make you think twice about the man on the corner with the cardboard sign.
Cons: A lack of action.
Other blogger opinions:
KellyVision: “The only complaint I have is that the book was short—barely 230 pages.”
The Blind Beggar: “Great read for any Jesus follower and particularly those working with our friends on the streets.”
Bookfoolery: “I can’t imagine how anyone could close this book and not see the world in a different way and yearn to help in some manner. Not Christian? Personally, I don’t think that matters.”
Other books I’ve read by Mike Yankoski: none
Legal gobbledygook: I received this book free from LibraryThing as part of their Early Reviewers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”