So... the internet was abuzz for a few days because some white college grad decided to set off on his own with nothing more than a sleeping bag and 25 bucks in his pocket and 'pull himself up by his bootstraps'. The experiment was to see if, within a year, he could improve his situation to the point where he had: a furnished place to live, a car, and 2500 dollars in the bank. Before the year in his experiment was up, he had a duplex with a roommate, a working truck, and over 5000 dollars saved up. To some folks, Adam Shepard is an inspiration - proof that the American dream isn't dead, and that "Nickel and Dimed" got it wrong. To others... well, here were some of the major criticisms I read about the book (apparently by people who hadn't read it):
1. Ooooh, a college graduate can make it off the streets? That's a revelation how?
He didn't use his college degree when applying for jobs, and the job that he took wasn't one that required even a high school diploma - being a college grad isn't gonna help you as a furniture mover or a day laborer.
2. The experiment isn't valid because: he's white. Of course he had no problem finding a job.
See the jobs he took again - none of them are what one would call reserved for whites-only.
3. The experiment isn't valid because: he didn't have any medical problems. See how an injury throws a kink in his plans and then come back to me!
Actually, he was laid up for a week from work after he broke his toe. The cost of medical help and lost wages threw a major kink in his plans, and he repeatedly stressed how grateful he was that it was only a toe, and acknowledged that had it been something more serious, he would have really been up shit creek.
4. The experiment isn't valid because: he ended it early! He only did it for 10 months and then when he heard there was an illness in his family, he gave up and went home! Let's see how well he would have made it if he'd had to support his sick family member!
This one is definitely by people who hadn't read the book. Aside from the fact that he'd already exceeded his goals when he ended the experiment, in reality, his struggle was just beginning for real. His mother came down with really aggressive cancer, and had nothing but a small disability check to support her. He and his brother took an apartment and moved her in with them to help support her. Oh, and the job he was helping support her with? He got a job at another moving company. The experiment ended up being practice for what his real life threw at him.
It's a quick read, at less than 250 pages. Every once in a while, he slips into white liberal anthropologist mode where he starts talking about how "authentic" and how "real" the people on the streets are, as if anyone living in a middle-class neighborhood is somehow a cardboard cutout. Other than that one criticism, though, I found the book truly inspiring. It wasn't a screed about how lazy poor people are, and the only thing stopping them from not being poor is a willingness to work. It was an ode to hard work and delayed gratification. It emphasized that teaching these concepts is critical to getting people off the streets. He doesn't say that anyone can do it on their own, and doesn't try to say that he did either - he openly acknowledges the help he received from Crisis Ministries, advice from other residents at the homeless shelter where he started out, advice and inspiration from his coworkers who were making it at the moving company. I enjoyed it, if only because it inspired me to keep on track - keep saving, keep paying down debt and keep to my goals. If Shepard can achieve his goals, starting from just 25 bucks and a year to work at it, I can surely achieve my own with a good job, and good house, and a supportive family.