Book Review: ROUGH SLEEPERS, by Tracy Kidder (a doctor's mission to bring healing to the homeless)
It is difficult to categorize such a brilliant work. ROUGH SLEEPERS is a labor of love in itself, about a doctor’s lifetime devotion to the medical and mental treatment of the 10% of the homeless population that are labeled “chronic.”
Author Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes the true and well attributed account of a modern-day saint, Dr. Jim O’Connell, who for over three decades has been a medical practitioner in the Boston Healthcare System for the homeless, and is famous for his “Outreach Rescue Van” method of contact and treatment.
Kidder writes passionately but directly of those who have “given up life for a while.” The book is a series of anecdotes, one tougher than the other, and although not a prescription for curing homelessness it is a tactical guide for sympathetic and symptomatic response.
“There is a lot you can do with those who have so little chance in life,” is a quote from the generous Dr. O’Connell, who all his patients and clients warmly call Jim.
Kidders’ writing style is a big draw for anyone. The true account reads like a historical novel, with references to the times (from @1985 to the present), personalities who flesh out the story with real wit, bringing the stories within the story to state plainly the history of medical assistance in a major metro area to those marginalized by the complexities of life and society.
Dr. O’Connell’s story is about how he learned to listen to “treatment resistant” people, whose lives “from night to night do not change.” There is statistical evidence to support the general problem of chronic homelessness, but Kidder does not rely on just data: ROUGH SLEEPERS is about the persons who treat the chronically ill through the power of their individual and collective committed advocation.
O’Donnell also confesses that the “situation was appalling, the work overwhelming, and … utterly fascinating.” Indeed. This book by Kidder can motivate one to a life of service.
I am involved on a small scale with transitioning veterans, and have a good relationship with a few Atlanta-area veteran homeless services, private 501c3’s. Cherokee County Homeless Veterans and Operation Rally Point oprallypoint.org are two tremendous organizations who work mightily to fill the void of services for the homeless, no matter the category they may be in.
If anyone is thinking about working with the homeless, this book is a strongly suggested read for you. It is all a labor of love, and being shown the road to successful improvement and avoiding the painful cul-de-sacs will make your work more meaningful.
ROUGH SLEEPERS will draw you in, but it is an informative read, not a pleasurable one. Highly recommended, not just for reading but for reference.