By Tanya Goff
Homelessness is not an easy issue, and Derelict Paradise, by Daniel Kerr, is not an easy book to read. If you are looking for light reading to take to the pool this summer, Derelict Paradise is not the right choice for you.
If, however, you wish to learn more about the institution of homelessness in the city of Cleveland, and how homelessness came to be institutionalized, than this is the book for you.
Starting with the railroad strikes of 1877, Kerr takes the reader through the intricacies of low income and homeless life in Cleveland through the years. Of note are Kerr’s retelling of City Manager Daniel Morgan’s war on panhandling in 1931, and the resurrection of this war by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance in the 2000s. Kerr revisits the roots of the Hough Rebellion of 1966, and doesn’t sugar coat the details, no matter how painful the details may be.
The story of Camelot was especially interesting to me, as I know some of the major characters in this event. I remember the hope that Eduardo Lauriano and Pam Wagner had for saving this important piece of Cleveland history. For a moment in time, many of us hoped against hope that finally something positive would happen for the homeless community living in Camelot, but then our hopes along with those of Eduardo, Pam, and the other people living there, were crushed as the City of Cleveland brought the wrecking ball and tore down their home.
Derelict Paradise relies heavily on painstaking research into the records and archives of Cleveland, as well as in person interviews with the key players in the homeless and homeless advocate community currently. Throughout this work, Kerr endeavors to answer the question he poses in the conclusion, “who benefits from institutionalized homelessness?” He works hard to show the reader the answer to this question. The answers aren’t easy, but then, neither is homelessness.
Editor’s Note: To find this book you can call 1-800-537-5487 or go to the University of Massachusetts website. ISBN 987-1-55849-849-5.
Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published July 2011 Cleveland, Ohio