Down and Out in Canada: Homeless Canadians
James S. Frideres is associate dean (research) in the Faculty of Social
Sciences, University of Calgary, and author of A World of Communities:
The author’s intent in this firsthand account of the homeless is, in
his words, “to develop an analysis of the lived experience of the
homeless, set within the larger framework of a political economy
analysis of those forces that both sustain and provide a catalyst to
homelessness as a growing social crisis.”
Using an ethnographic approach, O’Reilly-Fleming interviewed the
homeless in six Canadian cities—Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton,
Toronto, Windsor, and Oshawa. They represent a wide diversity of
individuals: single men, families, single mothers, teenagers, senior
citizens, refugees, and immigrants. In these interviews, they recount
how they fell into circumstances of extreme poverty or other situations
that drove them to a life of homelessness.
The author effectively uses his ethnographic data to debunk the myth,
about contemporary homeless people (e.g., they are old, male, and
alcoholic). This invisible group, which has reached epidemic
proportions, comprises not passive failures but rather reluctant victims
whose struggle for individual autonomy is routinely compromised by
government policy and by the institutions that deal with the homeless.
It is society, the author concludes, and not the homeless that must take
responsibility for changing the conditions that have produced the
homeless and that keep them from re-entering mainstream society.
While O’Reilly-Fleming uses the ethnographic storytelling approach to
carry out his research, he fails to integrate it with a structural
analysis. One of the chapters addresses the political economy of
homelessness, but the author fails to explain either the historical
causes or the situational contexts that lead individuals into
homelessness. Nevertheless, he has produced a readable and engrossing
book that will appeal to the general reader.