A first-person account explores homelessness in Massachusetts.
Lough opens his debut memoir in 2012 as he faced the prospect of living on the streets for the first time at age 53. The author recounts his trials while he navigated the rules and regulations of several shelters. Each one stipulated a different maximum length of residency and minimum period between stays, which added to the sense of revolving doors. Lough comments: “Compared to the six-day time period at Ally’s and two weeks at the Harvard shelter, ninety days at the Brewster seemed like real security.” When he couldn’t afford car repairs, this setback created a dependence on public transportation and severely limited the jobs he could accept. Lough’s frustration with this vicious cycle is palpable, especially when a shared ride to a job site got him into trouble (marijuana usage in the car was the issue, although the author did not partake) and affected his ability to sleep at a particular shelter. During one of the periods between shelters, an abandoned van became a godsend, his only chance to keep relatively warm and dry that night. It was unlocked and unoccupied, contained a mattress, and remained undisturbed until daybreak. Throughout the text, the author also includes bleak images of some of the locations he frequented during this time. After 18 months, Lough’s previously learned skills as a handyman offered him a way out when he found a steady job as an onsite building manager performing maintenance duties. To his credit, the author successfully conveys a precarious existence—at once monotonous and fraught with uncertainty. The only caveat about this gritty work regards the calibration of the reader’s expectations in light of a phrase from Randall Shaw’s Foreword (“an unvarnished look at the culture of homelessness”) and the broad subtitle, both of which could be a bit misleading. It may not be possible to extrapolate Lough’s experiences to other geographic locations or facets of identity such as race (he’s Caucasian), gender, or age. This memoir is a case study with significant details about everyday concerns, not a place for grand sociological theories. This is not to diminish its worth but rather to acknowledge the actual breadth of the project.
Narrow in scope, this homeless tale still offers a testimonial with undeniable value.