Book Review: Under the Overpass

I am embarrassed to admit that I received a complimentary review copy of this book, Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski a really long time ago from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group’s Blogging for Books program. I’m not quite sure what happened, but grad school plus the heavy subject matter of this book resulted in me taking a long time to read it, and an even longer time to process it enough to post a brief review.

Under the Overpass Review | The Pajama Chef

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Ever Wonder What it Would Be Like to Live Homeless?

Mike Yankoski did more than just wonder. By his own choice, Mike’s life went from upper-middle class plush to scum-of-the-earth repulsive overnight. With only a backpack, a sleeping bag and a guitar, Mike and his traveling companion, Sam, set out to experience life on the streets in six different cities—from Washington D.C. to San Diego— and they put themselves to the test. For more than five months the pair experienced firsthand the extreme pains of hunger, the constant uncertainty and danger of living on the streets, exhaustion, depression, and social rejection—and all of this by their own choice. They wanted to find out if their faith was real, if they could actually be the Christians they said they were apart from the comforts they’d always known…to discover first hand what it means to be homeless in America. Mike and Sam’s story is gritty, challenging, and utterly captivating. What you encounter in these pages will radically alter how you see your world—and may even change your life.

In general, I did enjoy this book and appreciate that it made me think a lot about the reality of homelessness in our society, and the role of faith in the equation as well. However, I really do not think that I agree with the premise of the “experiment” that drives this book, and that is what led to me to a slow reading time and even slower review. Though the author grapples with his ability to go in and out of a homeless situation by his personal choice [knowing that he will only be living that way for a set period, and though he does examine how he feels about using resources that are supposed to help those who really, truly are homeless and have no other option, this choice just doesn’t settle well with me. Despite that, I do recommend the book though, because it put individuality on homelessness. It gave a name to the faceless people we all see at interstate exits or along city streets. It reminded me that situations that lead to the condition of homelessness vary, and are not all related to the usual [assumptive] suspects like drugs, alcohol, etc.

One of the reasons this book was challenging to me was that my town has a sizable population of people experiencing homelessness–extremely large in proportion to the size of the town, because of its location in the state. As a result, there is division amongst the residents of the town about “what to do with the homeless,” with suggestions ranging from supporting the local homeless ministries and shelters to ignoring them so they go away to busing them to California or an equally far-off place.

My personal belief, developed through years of prayer and conviction from God, is that we need to do what we can to help. Period, end of story. In the moment, the type of help can vary. I have given cash, food, and gloves to people standing on the street, holding signs at stoplights. I have purchased grocery gift cards to give away, too. I have also spent time talking to a few men and women who sometimes hang out near our church, and have offered leftover food to them, which is almost always accepted. My husband and I have donated money, toiletries, clothes, and blankets to a local Christian shelter. I’ve read online about making “blessing bags” filled with necessities like socks, soap, granola bars, etc. to keep in your car and give away as needed, and I would like to do this. Obviously as a woman, what I can do on my own can be limited at times due to safety concerns, but that aside, I do these things because I believe my faith compels me to do so. I almost didn’t share this in my review, because I don’t want people to think I’m a saint [believe me, I am far from it] and I know that some people may consider help in any form [aside from giving to a shelter] to be foolish. I believe that we are only responsible for what we do. At times I give out of genuine compassion and love, but other times I give because I feel a nudging from God to do so. I am only responsible for my reaction to Him; I am not responsible for how others use/misuse what I give. I know that might be controversial, and I know that to an extent, that argument is flawed and faulty… but isn’t so much in this life?

I’m having a hard time ending this review, and an equally hard time being concise, so I’ll just end with this. People are people. Seeing people experiencing homelessness can be hard, and as a way to cope I believe we often judge them and rationalize out why we can’t help. I do that too. Even though I just shared some of the ways I have “helped” people, there are times when I don’t, even when I feel like I should. I am not perfect, but fortunately I have Christ. When I am tempted to judge or label people in different situations than my own, it sounds cliched and cheesy but I try to put myself in their shoes. This book was one of the first shifts in my thinking about what it takes to stand on a street corner, or to go to shelter, or to go through a dumpster… or to even shop at Goodwill. I shop at Goodwill periodically for fun, for a challenge, for a good deal, for something unique. Not because I have to, or can’t afford anything else. I can’t imagine not having a choice. I can’t imagine the potential for shame and hopelessness in those situations–whether it’s poverty experienced in or out of homelessness, no matter what circumstances led to that reality. Even though I don’t agree with everything in this book, I am glad I’ve read it for it has really caused me to think about things and become more Christlike.

If you’d like to read more about the book and download the first chapter, click here. I’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Happy Wednesday!

Disclosure: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the chance to read this great book!