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Review: Harsh realities of low-income families reflected in ‘Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City’

Matthew Desmond's 2016 nonfiction book "Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City" details the realities of struggles impoverished U.S. communities face. (Matthew Desmond / Random House)

Growing up, we are taught that strangers are dangerous, an idea that holds a double-edged sword. On one hand, we are told to protect ourselves against possible hazards and evils that the world may hold. However, a consequence of this mantra is that we lose sides of our humanity.

By viewing every stranger as a possible threat, our outlook toward the world is tinged with negativity and distrustfulness from a young age. For some, especially the homeless population, this means that they usually don’t experience the same compassion and generosity that people hold for others. The deep-rooted idea that transients are “dirty” or “criminals” has resulted in systematic repression of their rights and an overall unwillingness to fix the issue.

Matthew Desmond’s nonfiction book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City” details the stark realities of the struggles many endure simply to survive. For some, every day is a battle, where essential items such as food on the table and a roof over their heads are consistently in limbo.

“Evicted” paints an unflinching portrait of poverty in America through first-hand accounts of people’s lives as low-income tenants. Desmond takes his readers into the inner city of Milwaukee, where families scramble to pay rent and are often evicted with nowhere else to go, creating a vicious cycle of debt and poverty. It follows the lives of eight families and paints a vivid picture of the discrimination they face at every level — from landlords to authority figures — and the laws that are institutionally designed to keep them trapped in the world of food stamps and destitution. 

Coming from a privileged family, this book was truly eye-opening to the injustice that is ingrained into the American system. From my perspective, such oppression was constantly happening in the world around me and the feeling of powerlessness was overwhelming.

As a woman of color, I knew first-hand what some people were going through. In order to combat this, I try to raise awareness in my community as an advocate for minority and women’s rights. Like Desmond, I emphasize the importance of community and constructive growth when discussing such issues with local leaders and representatives in hopes of drawing visibility to what people all around us endure on a daily basis. 

Living in Los Angeles, where the homeless population has reached an all-time high of 60,000, this issue has affected an incredible number of people, all of which are stuck in a system structured against them. By having even a simple conversation with many of them, it quickly becomes apparent that these are real, good people who deserve a fair chance to earn their life back. This core American value has failed many of them, and for me, working to change the justice system is the most efficient way to resolve such a monumental issue.

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City” helped me understand what it means to be poor in America through thought-provoking, penetrating prose, and unforgettable accounts of people’s lives.

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