Shelter / Edition 1

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Bobby Burns arrived in Tucson, Arizona, with a few dollars in his pocket and no place to live. Without family, without a job, he had nowhere to go but a homeless shelter. How did a college graduate find himself so close to life on the streets? In a voice that is startling for its simplicity and utter honesty, Burns tells the story of how he slipped into homelessness, how he learned what it means to live in a place where nobody will notice if you disappear, and how he emerged to tell his story. Bobby's diary of 41 days without a home brings readers into the world of a homeless shelter. Shelter is filled with the sights and sounds of homelessness. Shelter life is patterned by meals provided by church volunteers, lines for soap and clean towels, the repeated meticulous washing of hands by an obsessive-compulsive resident, the rare pleasure of a fried chicken dinner, the illicit smell of marijuana within the shelter. Burns witnesses the residents' struggles with drugs, alcohol, and disability, and he wonders daily whether he will have the courage to emerge from this life. Bobby's diary expresses the full range of emotions of a homeless person: anger, self-pity, pride, humility, shame, depression, and optimism. These are not contradictions; taken together they represent the real feelings provoked by homelessness. But with rare inner courage, Bobby stokes the fires of hope within himself, marking the days in his journal to keep himself from sliding deeper into a spiral of despair. Bobby confronts his own stereotypes about the homeless and learns firsthand what it means to struggle daily for survival and for dignity. He learns greater courage and he learns greater kindness. He is given food and a bed for 41 days, but he finds shelter on his own, deep within himself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There are fine details and anecdotes in his thin and modest journal. . . . sincere and finally quite touching." —Publishers Weekly"[A] fascinating, first-hand account of life as a homeless person. . . . a compelling view of what it's like to be homeless." —Booklist
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This Bobbie Burns is no poet, but there are fine details and anecdotes in his thin and modest journal of 41 days in a Tucson, Ariz., homeless shelter. "Feeling like reading, I go to the library. I notice an old man reading a book in the corner. He's wearing mismatched shoes. I think this is all he can afford, but someone tells me the man refuses to wear matching shoes. No one knows why." An Army vet and college graduate, Burns gives us too-quick glimpses of the shelter, his background and how he painstakingly saves up his money from substitute-teaching--mainly at a reservation 50 miles outside of Tucson--to be able to rent his own apartment. (Unfortunately, as his epilogue tells us, on his own, he slides back into alcoholism before going to Alcoholics Anonymous.) Habitually cautious in his judgments of others, he tells of a shelter client who becomes infuriated about the theft of his watch. When the client offers a reward for its return, someone comes forward with it; the "finder" receives a handshake. This scene evokes one of Burns's rare but useful generalizations on the homeless experience: "Keeping time is what most homeless people do best--with or without a watch. Time to work. Time to find food. Time to find shelter. Time to move on. Time to panhandle. Time to drink away the pain. Time to stay warm. Time to ask for help. The homeless know what time it is. It's time to survive." While neither is as compelling or illuminating as Timothy E. Donohue's In the Open: Diary of a Homeless Alcoholic or Lee Stringer's recent Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street, Shelter is sincere and finally quite touching. 11-city shelter tour. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
A Filofax view of 41 days in a homeless shelter. Burns is a college graduate and the editor of an NAACP newsletter, as well as assistant director of an alcohol-recovery program in Tucson, Ariz. It was in that city that he stepped off the bus with some money in his pocket and a history of medical, drug, and alcohol problems. The shelter where he checked in had more than 100 men packed into metal bunk beds in the sleeping area; the bathroom boasted of two urinals and two toilets (without doors), plus six showers and six sinks to serve all these clients. Distressed by the crowded conditions, the odors, and the mix of ill and addicted men, Burns, a navy veteran, nevertheless caught on quickly to the shelter's routine: up at 5:30 a.m. to turn in laundry, breakfast at 6:00, a rush to the shelter bus for the trip downtown to apply for benefits, look for a job, see a counselor. Unless excepted for one reason or another, shelter residents had to be out of the building between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. each weekday and back for dinner, unless the shelter was informed otherwise. This was the shape of Burns's days for the next six weeks, as recorded in the journal he kept. He seems to have recorded complete menus of what was served for dinner, as well as detailed notes on his evenings in the shelter. He eavesdropped on intake interviews, read, fretted about contagious diseases, and did his share of clean-up. The schedule and structure helped him to stay sober, although others smoked, did drugs, and drank, sometimes tipping the fragile equilibrium among the residents. Later, on his own, Burns began to drink again, but recovered and moved on to a productive life. Burns is to becommended for hanging tough and pulling through, but these recollections contribute little more than a menu- by-menu tableau of life in a shelter.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816518623
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 138
  • Sales rank: 1,292,053
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Bobby Burns writes for the Arizona Informant Newspaper, a weekly African American newspaper and is a former columnist with the Tucson Citizen newspaper. He’s also co-hosts the “On the Bookshelf” radio show about writers. He earned an M.A. from Northern Arizona University and a B.A. degree from Arizona State University. He recently celebrated 14 years clean and sober.

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