#BookReview: When We Walk By by Kevin F. Adler and Donald W. Burnes

Elite Sociology Types Explain Homelessness. In a spirit of full disclosure up front, I’m a guy that literally has “Real Is Real” – the subheading of Part III of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged – tattooed on his wrist, along with a few other tattoos of various Christian thinking, both common (Triune God) and more obscure (Christ’s death redefines religious laws). And yet I’ve also presented at a sociological association’s conference, over 20 years ago while still in college. With that noted, let’s get into my thoughts on this book, shall we? 🙂

Coming into this review moments after reading this book, I wasn’t going to rate it 5*. There is quite a bit of rampant elitism and racism here, from forgetting just how horrid public housing has proven to be to openly advocating for several explicitly racist programs such as Affirmative Action and reparations. And yet, while admittedly deep into the text… the authors own up to their racism and elitism, unlike so many other books in this space. So there went that potential star deduction. And I was thinking that the book was only about 16% documentation, and it actually ended with about 18%. While still *slightly* lower than the more normal 20-30% I’m accustomed to seeing in these types of books, even I have noted in at least one or two reviews over the last few weeks that given how many more recent books are coming in somewhere in the teens, I may need to revise my expected average downward a few points – which would put this 18% within that newly revised range, almost assuredly. Thus, there went that potential star deduction.

So what I’m left with is an idealistic book that bounces between firmly grounded in reality in showing the full breadth and scope of how so many people come to a state of homlessness and how and why so many programs built to “combat” or “end” homelessness fail and even actively harm the people they claim to he trying to help to being truly pie in the sky, never going to happen “solutions” such as Universal Basic Income. And yet, here again, some of the solutions proposed – such as tiny house villages and container box conversion homes – are ideas that I myself have even proposed.

Admittedly, I chose to read this book this week because of the ongoing struggles in Gastonia, NC, where the City Council is currently threatening to entirely shut down a local church because of its efforts to serve the local homeless population, efforts brought to media attention by the efforts of Libertarian activist (and rumored potential 2024 Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party) Spike Cohen. Unfortunately, I’ve seen myself over years of even casually watching the issue that the current events in Gastonia are simply far too common – which is one of the things this text gets quite right in covering while never really going in depth with any specifics. Even down to also addressing, again at a high level, the all too common practice of hostile design.

At the end of the day, there are very clear differences in how the authors here and I approach this (and likely many) issue, and I suspect that will be true of many who read this book as well. But if you’re interested in the issue of homelessness at all, if you’re truly interested in trying to help end this problem, if you’re searching for something you can personally do to help, if you’re looking for ideas to work at any level to assist… you should read this book. It really is quite a solid primer, despite the authors’ clear bents, and at minimum it will help you avoid pitfalls that are far too common even among those with quite a bit of experience working within these communities. Very much recommended.

This review of When We Walk By by Kevin F. Adler and Donald W. Burnes was originally written on June 23, 2023.

#BookReview: Excluded by Richard D Kahlenberg

Well Documented Examination Of How Class Is Used To Separate More Than Race In Modern Era. Seriously, this is one of the better documented texts I’ve read in quite some time, clocking in at about 37% documentation. And given its claims that some might find extraordinary – such as “In a 2014 analysis, one researcher found that the level of segregation between poor Black and affluent Black families was actually greater than that between Black families and White families” – the extraordinary documentation is needed in order to more fully prove the case, which Kahlenberg does quite well indeed here. As Kahlenberg notes early, zoning isn’t really something most Americans think about too much unless they happen to buy a piece of property (and how many of us actually do that these days??) and have some issue with the local zoning board. But zoning directly impacts the availability of housing – which is something quite a few Americans are worried about in the early part of the 2020s. Kahlenberg pulls no punches here, and shows how elites – no matter their Party or race – have been using these issues to overcome previous (and wrong and correctly outlawed) race-based barriers. As a white dude who grew up in the 80s and 90s in a trailer park, and whose wife once lived in a duplex – both forms of housing that are routinely being zoned out of existence in more recent years – I’ve been in and around this all my life, but Kahlenberg finally puts an academic focus on what I’ve observed “on the street” and shows that the problem is actually far worse than even I had realized. Truly an outstanding work, and one anyone concerned about the housing market or “social justice” needs to read. Very much recommended.

This review of Excluded by Richard D. Kahlenberg was originally written on January 30, 2023.

#BookReview: We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia

Mostly Solid Work A Bit Misguided By Its Own Biases. This is one of the more comprehensive books I’ve found about the actual issues facing Autistics in the current world (circa 2020) – well, in the US anyway. Discussions of education, gender, housing, personhood, etc are mostly solid and mostly problem free, focusing on numerous interviews the author has conducted over several years combined with well documented (roughly 32% of the text of this Advance Reader Copy I read) research.

It even has two *extremely* good points:
1) “We don’t know what Autism in and of itself looks like. We only know how autism informed by trauma presents itself.” -Cal Montgomery
2) From the close of Chapter 9: “People who are not Autistic often assume they are acting benevolently by hand-holding those on the spectrum. But despite their best intentions, there is an element of condescension in thse actions because it assumes that non-Autistic people know what’s best. But it is Autistic people who live with the condition of Autism – for all of its positives and negatives – as well as the consequences of any collective action meant to help them. If there is going to be policy that has seismic impact on their lives, they deserve to have a say it in, no mater how they communicate. Furthermore, while many parent advocates, clinicians, and other “experts” may have good intentions, centering their voices continues to give them power that should lie with the Autistic community. To achieve any true sense of freedom, Autistic people need to take this power back.”

HOWEVER, the fact that the discussion routinely ignores and even outright dismisses the needs and challenges of white Autistics and/ or Autistics who *do* find meaningful employment in the science and/ or technology sectors means that the book fails to have truly the comprehensive discussion of the condition that it seems to seek to have. In ignoring these facets, it doesn’t truly “change the Autism conversation” in any truly helpful manner, as it blatantly ignores and dismisses a key component that can actually do quite a bit of good in trying to address all of the other issues the narrative does go in detail on. We Autistic technologists can create the very technologies Garcia sometimes points to as being needed, in part because we ourselves truly do live with these very same issues – and thus, we don’t actually need a neurotypical trying to approximate some solution, as we can create a solution that works for our own particular case and allow for it to be customized to fit other cases as well.

Ultimately this truly is a very strong look at the state of Autistic society today and the issues Autistics face in trying to fully integrate into larger neurotypical societies, it simply missed its potential to be so much more. Very much recommended.

This review of We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia was originally written on March 14, 2021.