Cathy A. Small


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

Cover Interview of January 06, 2021


In the opening paragraph of the preface, it reads: “Compassion is described as the quivering of the heart in relation to the suffering of others; it is accompanied by an impulse to relieve the suffering witnessed.” I would hope that the book leads readers to a greater understanding of the suffering that homeless people endure and a greater impulse to relieve that suffering.

A study from the Center for Experimental Research on Fairness, Inequality and Rationality at the Norwegian School of Economics found that people in all political camps—conservative and liberal—want to take corrective measures about inequality when they perceive that being disadvantaged is not “earned.”

I wish that the book can offer readers another way to talk about causation, one that focuses more on the impossibly slippery slope on which people teeter before sliding into homelessness rather than focusing on their choice of footwear. I hope readers will come to see the patience and ingenuity it really takes to live homeless. I imagine they will wince, with me, at the indignities of living with the stigma of homelessness. I wish that the book will bring to light the unseen features of being poor and homeless: the businesses that profit from the poor; the countless hoops and catch-22s in the bureaucracies purporting to help the homeless.

I hope insights will prompt some action, although our book is not prescriptive about the changes we expect. I take heart in whatever a reader might be moved to do. Given our different proclivities and resources and positions, this may vary widely. I was moved to volunteer at a homeless shelter (and write a book!) but others might send donations. Perhaps the action taken will be to put issues on one’s radar, like decriminalizing overnight camping or regulating payday loans, that hadn’t been there before. Maybe a neighborhood or a church group might take on the biggest obstacle to affordable housing in their community: NIMBY (attitudes deeming housing as important but Not in My Backyard).

I dream that those in positions of power might help rouse the political will to squarely address homelessness, and the social and economic inequities at its source. But the most real and tender image I hold is that of multiple readers, some of whom have written me, who carry little bags of snacks in their cars, with maybe a pair of socks, or a toothbrush, or a bus pass, to hand out to homeless people they encounter.