Book Review: Homeless at Harvard by John Christopher Frame

Homeless at Harvard

Homeless at Harvard by John Christopher Frame

is a story about John Frame and the friends he made while living one summer with the homeless community in Harvard Square. The author himself was not homeless and so did not really experience what it was like to be homeless. He could leave at any time – his new friends could not. Frame, a Harvard student, chose to live within the community in order to gain a better understanding, to build relational bridges, and to share his experience with others (yes, he did it to write a book).

Frame follows a handful of homeless people closely. It’s a story but it is not really chronological. Frame jumps back and forth, giving snapshots of life on the street. His stories are touching, poignant, and personal. You really get to “know” his friends, particularly Neal. Like a story, the book has some conflict and some suspense, but what it doesn’t have is a tidy ending. While some people seem to end with success – finding a home – others end with a lot of open questions. It’s what actually happened, of course, but it also feels like a broader metaphor for homelessness.

Solidness: Plus+ One of the more interesting parts of this book is its “in their own words” chapters where Frame’s friends share their own stories. Each has a unique perspective on life and theology. Many of the homeless people Frame meets are Christian and some are militant atheist. The book presents a whole range of religious experience. Frame himself is a Christian and shares his faith with the homeless he interacts with. He doesn’t really develop theological insights in the book but he (and his homeless friends) do regularly point back to the cross, both as a symbol for salvation and for friendship across boundaries.

Freshness: Plus+ The book provides a unique perspective on homelessness, though it is certainly not exhaustive. Frame certainly learned a lot in those ten weeks but the sample size is still small. I would be interested to hear the story of someone who lived for a much longer time on the streets. Of course, the reader does get that through Frame’s conversations and the friendships he built in his time in Harvard Square.

Recommendation: If you’re interested in the problem of homelessness I recommend this book. It’s not a how-to manual for solving the problem but does give a more nuanced look at the face of homelessness. You get to know a diverse group of people who have a diverse set of struggles. I confess: it can be easy to lump all homeless people together or to make broad generalizations. This book is a good antidote to that kind of thinking.

I wanted more answers out of this book – what to give, how to help without hurting – but I didn’t really get that. I think that was by design. Frame understands that the problems are complex and so are the needs. Homelessness doesn’t have a one-size-fits solution. The answer isn’t simple because people aren’t simple. Frame wants us to understand that giving a handout is really just a first step in getting to know the homeless on a personal level.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255