Homeless at Harvard by John Christopher Frame [Book Review]

book cover

Homeless at Harvard is a story about the homeless community at Harvard Square and how the author’s life and the lives of those on the streets were woven together into a special tapestry.

Harvard Square is at the center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the business district around Harvard University. It’s a place of history, culture, and some of the most momentous events of the nation. But it’s also a gathering place for some of the city’s needy.

Initially, Frame’s personal interest and concern for the homeless began while pursuing a master’s degree at Anderson University School of Theology. His inspiration to know those living on the street came about after spring break trips to Atlanta to serve with a homeless ministry. This experience helped him to better understand how he (all of us) should be concerned for the homeless.

While taking his final course at Harvard Divinity School, John Frame stepped outside the walls of academia and onto the streets, pursuing a different kind of education with his homeless friends. It’s not accurate to say that the author was totally homeless during the ten weeks, even though he didn’t have any dorm or an apartment to stay in that summer, he voluntarily spent time on the streets, compared to those who were truly homeless usually had no other choice.

Rather than judging the homeless for their circumstances, Frame takes time to get to know them personally. He makes the point that if we really listen, we will always end up seeing people in a different, more compassionate light…to show people their strength, and point out the positive aspects of their lives. In this insightful book, the author’s narrative is blended with words from George, Chubby John, Neal and Dane–street companions who share their own stories with an inside look of life as a homeless person experiences it.

Frame wrote this book with the hope and intent that it would make a difference in the heart and mind of the reader for the homeless. By sharing his experiences with homeless people more broadly, possibly it would help others think about building relationships with people on the streets. Helping people with both tangible and intangible needs is important. There’s something inside each of us that needs other people. Really understanding others’ brokenness hurts, and pain includes acknowledging our similarities.

The author is not blind to his own insecurities or ignorance about the best way to help the homeless. You sense the tension he has with wanting to do more and feeling guilty because he didn’t do enough. He is introspective of his own personal motives for helping the needy — to be responsible means being honest and wise about who has the greatest needs, ourselves or others — and then acting on that realization. Frame knows that the needs of the homeless are broad and complex and there are no simple solutions or a set remedy that will fit all. He does not offer a solution to the problem of homelessness nor does he give answers to all of the questions he asks himself.

The book does accomplish the intent to help the reader understand who the homeless are. To help non-homeless people understand a culture and people who might be unknown or even scary to them.

For John Frame, that summer of living on the streets at Harvard Square helped him think about life from a new perspective. I believe he has accomplished his hope that writing this book would make a difference. It is a book worth reading.

When we forget stereotypes and seek to know people for who they truly are, we give them a chance. And in return, we give ourselves a chance — to love, flourish, and truly live. It is in that vulnerable place in life — where we are our true selves — that others can bring change within us. And it’s in that place that we better understand that though people are different from each other, we’re really still the same.  — John Christopher Frame, Homeless in Harvard: Finding Faith and Friendship on the Streets of Harvard Square

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255