Thursday, January 26, 2012

And Now A Message From the Other 1%

According to the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness and Wickipedia, 2.5 to 3.5 million people experienced homelessness in America for some period of time in 2011. Although statistics vary to some extent depending on who the reporter is, on any given night in America, approximately 75,000 to 80,000 people are homeless. I could not find statistics on how many people are on the brink of homelessness either breathing a sigh of relief as they send in their rent checks for one more blessed month or living with friends or relatives whose patience is reaching the breaking point. We’ve heard from the top 1% and how misunderstood they feel (tsk, tsk). Now it’s time to hear from the homeless, that other 1% whose existence few want to acknowledge.

With that in mind, I felt honored when John H. Sibley asked me to read and review his book Being and Homelessness – Notes From An Underground Artist. John Sibley is an artist and writer who graduated from The School of the Art Institute who has taught in the Chicago Public Schools and worked in the high tech industry.

What I enjoyed about Mr. Sibley's book is that it wasn’t what I expected, thus forcing me to reexamine my perceptions and images of who the homeless are. An artist and writer, John Sibley unexpectedly found himself homeless in the late 1970’s. The hopelessness and despair that he talks about so articulately could only be described by someone who has experienced it.

Despite what you think, this book is not about John Sibley’s journey in, through, and out of homelessness. While I would have liked to hear how he managed to pull himself out of homelessness, he does not really tell us that. He does, however, describe some of his experiences and his words paint a stark picture of what that reality is for those who have to sleep on the street or in homeless shelters. He is able to give us a glimpse into a world that most of us hope and pray we will never see. If you read Being and Homelessness, you will be able to see a part of that world. You’ll also see how our country has failed to adequately address the needs of poor people who should be helped to avoid ending up in this situation.

Nevertheless, Being and Homelessness isn’t only about homelessness. Rather it is one man’s view of life on a variety of subjects. This in itself was interesting. Prior to reading Being and Homelessness, when I heard that word, that was all I could focus on. This book was a reminder that the situation in which John Sibley found himself was not all he was. His collection of essays is about his thoughts on myriad subjects – art, music, Afrocentrism, math, treatment of the mentally ill, politics, and his opinion of President Obama to name just a few. Some of it was actually difficult for me to grasp. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A challenge keeps our minds from ossifying and with that in mind, I recommend that you read John Sibley’s book Being and Homelessness.  


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