Book Review: Finding Home in the Promised Land

From the Catalyst, Summer 2017

Finding Home in the Promised Land: A Personal History of Homelessness and Social Exile
By Jane Harris
J. Gordon Shillingford, 2015

Reviewed by Darlene O’Leary

“I fought my way out of the wilderness, but I still wear cuts inside my body and soul.”

In Finding Home in the Promised Land, author Jane Harris shares her deeply personal story of domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, and social exile. She also offers a narrative and historical glimpse of her Scottish immigrant ancestors, particularly her great-great grandmother. Their struggles in the new “promised land” of pre- Confederation Canada both parallel and contrast Harris’s own quest for home.

As the book moves between the past and the present, Harris searches for answers about the brutal reality of poverty. She offers an account of her own experience with what she calls the “poverty industry.” In the process, she also provides disheartening facts about poverty in Canada and who is most impacted.

Harris is both a victim of and resistant to the deeply held notion that poverty is a personal failure. She recognizes that surviving and thriving in any context requires not just hard work and determination, but it requires social relationships and supports.

Harris’s analysis of social and institutional failures is broad ranging, and her personal experiences illustrate these failures powerfully.

In pointing toward solutions, Harris makes a case for more affordable housing, along with a housing benefit for those in need. She also recommends exploring a guaranteed annual income as an alternative to the “shame-based poverty industry.”

Ultimately, this book is a personal search for home and an exploration of the social exile of those most vulnerable.

Author

  • Darlene O’Leary has followed the path of social justice for many years, leading her to work in the areas of refugee resettlement and international development, as well as in an academic setting as a researcher, writer, and professor in the fields of theology and ethics. Darlene has a Ph.D. (Theology) from Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Her dissertation focused on ethics and economics in the context of Canadian Catholic social ethics and the work of Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan. She served as the Executive Director of Galilee Centre, an Oblate retreat centre in Arnprior, Ontario, where she managed operations and programs, including a Spirituality and Social Justice Program. Darlene recently completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship with the University of Prince Edward Island, Faculty of Education, which involved research on Inuit Educational Leadership, guided by the inspiring women who have taken part in the UPEI Master of Education (Nunavut) program. Darlene has been an active member of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, serving on the National Council for several years as the PEI representative. Currently, Darlene lives in Ottawa with her husband, Digafie, and their dog, Che.

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