Cathy A. Small


On her book The Man in the Dog Park: Coming Up Close to Homelessness

Cover Interview of January 06, 2021

In a nutshell

The Man in the Dog Park describes the experience of homelessness from a homeless point of view. Co-authored with a homeless man, the book is based on scores of interviews and encounters with individuals without homes; its chapters lead the reader into a world that most have never seen.

The reader travels as an intimate observer in this world. What is unique about the book is what a reader is able to witness: the details of a day at a homeless shelter; what happens to you on a “day labor” job; a trip to a pawn shop to exchange a ring for needed money, and what you really get and owe. Readers spend time with a panhandler, as he shows us how he negotiates living in his car; they hear the interview questions asked at the federal housing office, when my co-author Ross is trying to qualify for shelter. Privy to more than just homelessness statistics or even to interview narratives, readers will encounter the realities and issues of homelessness as they are lived.

Each of the book’s central chapters focuses on a slice of homeless life: the stigma felt by those without homes (3), shelter life (4), street life (5), making money (6), negotiating the bureaucracy (7). But these chapters are framed by a larger argument: that none of the realities of homeless life happens apart from “us.” As described on the Cornell University Press website: “The Man in the Dog Park points to the ways that our own cultural assumptions and blind spots are complicit in US homelessness and contribute to the degree of suffering that homeless people face. At the same time, Small, Kordosky and Moore show us how our own sense of connection and compassion can bring us into touch with the actions that will lessen homelessness and bring greater humanity to the experience of those who remain homeless.” To see Small and Moore discussing their book see this video on YouTube.

I would want the reader to read this in whatever way that invites their attention and their compassion. Although this will differ for different readers, a few members of diverse book clubs have offered me this advice:

One reader: “Read in small chunks, maybe 2-3 chapters only at a time. When you truly take in the material, sometimes the enormity of suffering or frustration there can be overwhelming. A shorter, slower, “read and process” strategy can be useful for balance.”

Another reader: “Try to note and relax your own judgments. This applies not only to viewing people who are homeless but also to yourself. There is a lot you may not have noticed or known. Join the club.”

Ignorance, delusion, indifference. It is these qualities, I have found in myself too, that undergird the writing of this book, so please appreciate your own willingness to engage with painful places that can all too easily be ignored.