Finding Home in the Promised Land: A Personal History of Homelessness and Social Exile, by Jane Harris. 192 pages, J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing, www.jgshillingford.com. $22.95 CAD.
“I am only here because I refused to give up my last smidge of hope,” writes Jane Harris in her second book, Finding Home in the Promised Land, a memoir of her recent experience of homelessness and poverty.
Following a horrific incident of domestic violence that leaves her with a severe brain injury and an uncertain future, Harris must turn to the social welfare system for help. She quickly discovers, however, that what she deems the “poverty industry”—made up of social service agencies such as soup kitchens, food banks, and shelters—fosters cycles of dependence rather than offering long-term solutions to lift individuals out of hardship. Moreover, stigma towards the poor and homeless still prevails, and today’s complex bureaucratic systems can be difficult and frustrating to navigate for those seeking assistance when they need it the most. Harris draws parallels between her story and that of her ancestors, Scottish immigrants who lived in rural southwestern Ontario in the mid-1800s and teetered precariously on the verge of poverty while toiling as agricultural and domestic laborers. The recurring theme, she notes, is that those without social safety nets who experience trauma or loss have historically and continue to fall through the cracks.
Harris provides a disheartening glimpse into what it is like to have to start anew after experiencing devastating trauma, weaving personal and family history alongside historical and contemporary perspectives on poverty. Based on her own lived experience, she passionately advocates for affordable housing, food security, and instituting a guaranteed annual income, arguing that these initiatives will help restore independence so individuals do not have to rely on social service organizations for the rest of their lives. Harris’s insightful commentary is thought-provoking and engaging, emphasizing the ways in which we must protect, defend, and uplift the most marginalized members of our community. (Melissa Hergott)