In The Concrete Killing Fields, Pat Morgan tells the story of her efforts to end the cycle of homelessness, first by working in a Street Ministry in Memphis, and then at the national political level in Washington DC. The Concrete Killing Fields is more than just a story about ending the cycle of homelessness. It’s a story about Pat Morgan herself. Her goal was to both tell the story of the homeless people she met along the way and to tell her own story. She sums it up near the end of the book saying,
“I’d spent the better part of a quarter century trying to help homeless people and telling their stories in the hope that it would bring healing and hope to them, only to find that it would happen to me when I told some of their stories – and mine.”
The Concrete Killing Fields reads more like a memoir than a handbook. It is generally descriptive (“this is my story”) rather than prescriptive (“this is what you should do”). Nevertheless, through her story, Morgan is able to describe some of the main causes of homelessness and provide some promising solutions. Morgan is also a superb writer. Her stories draw you in and her style includes just the right level of descriptive detail.
The Concrete Killing Fields is split into three sections. In the first part, Morgan describes her work at the church sponsored Street Ministry which served homeless people in Memphis. This section of the book tells the stories of many “street people” she met while serving there. Many of the stories are heartbreaking, though a few have more positive outcomes. It was through her work at the Memphis ministry that Morgan was able to learn the two main causes of homelessness that she returns to again and again in the book: substance abuse and mental health issues. In Memphis Morgan also finds herself struggling with “the systems,” primarily the mental health system, which she sees as grossly under-funded and under-staffed.
In the second part of The Concrete Killing Fields, Morgan describes her time in Washington DC. This part of the book is the most political in nature. Morgan is a self-described Clintonite and she worked tirelessly on the Clinton-Gore campaign. The big political issue for Morgan is obviously homelessness and she clearly had a more receptive listening ear in the Democratic Party than the Republican. As someone who leans conservative parts of this section were difficult to read. For instance, she praises Hillary Clinton for caring for everyone’s children, at which point the voice in the back of my head screamed “everyone’s except for the unborn!”
In this section Morgan continues to develop and advocate the need for mental health services for the homeless. Because of her “hands-on” work in Memphis she was, for me, a credible voice. I may find myself on the “other side of the aisle” from her on several political issues, but she won me over in regards to homelessness.
In the final and shortest section of the book, Morgan describes how she left DC in order to find closure in her personal and family life. Morgan describes how she visits the grave of her father, a cop who was murdered in the line of duty and her mother, who had left her family when she was a child. She concludes the book by describing her visit to the grave of Alepeachie, one of the homeless men she worked with in Memphis. In this section it definitely appears as though Morgan is seeking healing through telling the truth, both of her life and the lives of the homeless she so passionately serves.
The Concrete Killing Fields offered both less and more than I was expecting. I expected more “this is what we should do” (though I did learn a lot about how substance abuse and mental health issues relate to homelessness) and less “this was my life.” After reading the book, though, I’m not sure I would have had it any other way. Morgan’s restless passion for ending the cycle of homelessness is certainly inspiring, and perhaps by simply telling her story she will be able to inspire others to action.
Note: Special thinks to Samantha Lien from JKSCommunications for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.