Under the Overpass – Book Review

By: Michael Yankosky

This short novel takes a deep dive into America’s homeless communities.  The author, Michael Yankosky, accounts his time living among the homeless in America, accompanied by his friend Sam. They decide to embark on this journey to learn more about how they can help the homeless.   To better understand people in need, they believe they need to live alongside them and experience the same struggles. 

“I was warned when entering seminary that if I was not careful, a dangerous habit could form: I could learn to read the Bible and do nothing in response. I still remember our seminary president warning us that to study to the neglect of action becomes easier and easier with each occurrence. We should be terrified if we have mastered the art of becoming convicted and doing nothing in response.”

My summary:

 A big part of this book focuses on the spirituality of Mike and Sam.  As Christians, they know that caring for the poor is a pillar of Christianity.  For this reason, they push themselves to take on this challenge to learn how to better serve the poor.  Both men feel they are not doing enough, and by immersing themselves in this life, they believe they will be better prepared to understand Christ’s message and help people in need. 

Mike and Sam plan a five-month homeless journey through some of the more popular homeless cities in America. They brought almost no possessions with them and no money, forcing them to rely on the kindness of others for survival.  Regardless of what you believe spiritually, this decision would not be an easy one to make; to abandon everything you have, your life and its luxuries, to live on the streets.

Mike separates each part of the book by each city they visit.  They begin by living in a rehab mission/facility in Denver.  Although neither Mike nor Sam do drugs, they were accepted into the mission and slept beside many men who were experiencing addiction or fighting to stay sober.  They remained in the facilities for one month before moving on to the streets of Washington D.C., where they have their first real taste of homelessness and hunger.  They meet many homeless people who describe stories of loss, helplessness, and abandonment. The men try to be a listening and supporting friend to the people they meet along the way, hoping they will have a lasting positive influence on each person.

“Remember that the poor are people with names,” writes Bryant Myers, author of Walking with the Poor.

My thoughts:

What I found very interesting was reading how each city interacted with their homeless populations.  It was difficult to read about how Christian communities all over America treated or ignored the homeless that lived around them and how restaurants, shop owners, police and passersby talk down to these men or the other homeless people.  It painted a sad picture of how society views people in need.  Of course, there were also stories of Christian people they met who supported them in extraordinary ways, from providing shelter, food or companionship.  Also, stories of neighbours or passersby interacting with homeless people and trying to help them in any way they could.  Thankfully, these positive experiences reaffirmed my faith in humanity.

This is an outstanding and thought-provoking novel, and it made me look inward and ask some of the same questions Mike asked himself.  What am I doing for the poor in my neighbourhood?  How often do I walk by homeless people in my city and ignore them? Yes, I give extra coins here and there, when I have some, but what about donating a meal?  This book gives you the encouragement to go out into the world and see homeless people as real people.  It helps the reader understand that these people may be living on the streets because of addiction or because they have been abandoned and have mental health issues.  There is so much more to each homeless person you see on the streets, and while it may not always be wise to give money to each person you see, there are so many other ways we can support our homeless communities.

After reading some of the reviews, I noticed quite a bit of criticism towards this book.  Many people feel that ‘deciding’ to become homeless doesn’t offer the authentic experiences of being homeless.  People point to the obvious difference: these men can go home whenever they want, a privilege homeless people do not have.  I understand these criticisms but, by taking this journey, Mike and Sam may have opened people’s minds to the homeless, and if they encourage even 10% of their readers to help the poor in their neighbourhoods, then their journey was worth it.

I recommend people read this book to learn about what goes on in homeless communities and to gain a better understanding of how you can help. I think it’s books like this that encourage people to make changes in their lives, to think of other people, not just themselves. 

“Weren’t those well-intentioned speakers condemning the broken for being broken?”

One thought on “Under the Overpass – Book Review

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