Book Review: A Gift of Hope, Helping the Homeless by Danielle Steel


by M. J. Joachim

Eleven years working on the street, bringing bags of necessity to the homeless, is no small feat for anyone. Danielle Steel’s mission started after the tragic death of her son, shared in another of her books I’m now determined to read and have added to my ever growing list of “to be read” books.

A Gift of Hope is an easy and quick read that exposes and highlights the plight of homelessness in our world. Taking place in San Francisco, the story unfolds and is about a personal mission given by God as an answer to prayer. How Steel started her work and why it continued is interesting, but far from the main part of the story.

Steel, using her first person perspective, clearly defines homelessness beyond the boundaries of government programs, food drives, soup kitchens, outreach groups and the like. She speaks from experience as she takes us into the world of those who have fallen through the cracks, as it were – the people who clearly need help, but have little to no way of actually getting it.

Some of these same people, albeit living in a different city and having different names, I’ve already met in Deb Bory’s book, Bend Me, Shape Me. That was the point, for me at least – to discover the reality of a plight so harsh and so unyielding, that too many people turn a blind eye, take advantage and offer little to no hope for these marginalized people in our society.

It is easier to ignore the problem, donate goods or money and volunteer for groups already engaged in the battle to serve the homeless. Many of us actually do care and make every effort to support local community events helping the homeless in a variety of ways. Kudos to us all for squinting in the face of this tragedy, where people fight to survive and maintain some semblance of dignity while struggling to live on the streets.

I say squinting now, after I’ve read Steel’s book, because some of the things she revealed are hard to swallow. Things like government programs designed to shift and hide the problem of homelessness, where government employees literally hand out bus tickets to homeless people, sending them somewhere else, to be someone else’s problem. Or the one relating to project clean up – it’s just grand, especially if you’re homeless in the great city of San Francisco. This is the one where huge government trucks are sent out to clean up the streets. God help the homeless person hiding behind a dumpster to take a pee when this truck rolls by. All his or her belongings are quickly cleaned up, often thrown away for being too old, dirty or rotten. Could you imagine coming home after going the grocery store to find out the government went through your belongings and determined what was good enough to keep or throw away, only to find out they threw away most of it?

City officials in San Francisco literally have a task force to do this to homeless people on a regular basis. Now that’s good use of tax payer dollars. Wouldn’t you agree? Out of sight, out of mind – and hope the poor beggars come to their senses, wake up one morning and decide to quit being homeless, because if they don’t the government will keep cleaning up and throwing away their stuff.

Programs like these exist in many cities across the globe. Destitute people are being shuffled, frowned upon and taken advantage of, instead of receiving hope, love and compassion from their fellow human beings. This is one of the most important messages shared in Steel’s story, one that should touch our hearts and call us to action, if only because we are human too, and as Steel says numerous times throughout the book, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

As mentioned previously in this book review, A Gift of Hope focuses on the homeless people falling through the cracks – the ones who don’t qualify for services, can’t get into shelters for various reasons, and certainly have little to no way of understanding all those forms or providing information necessary to receive any types of services. These are the people hiding out, sleeping in doorways, dumpsters and under overpasses. These are the people digging through trashcans, walking broken grocery carts down the street and sleeping in cardboard boxes on park benches.

One must consider the limited resources available to such people, and adequately count the numbers of marginalized, homeless people in our midst. Government data does a poor job of appropriately counting the homeless – they want the rest of us to believe the problem isn’t so bad, and their methods of accurately counting homeless people are faulty at best, as Steel clearly points out in her book.

Consider the logistics of it all and common sense will reveal the truth of the matter. Shelters and soup kitchens are located in strategic places, hopefully to serve as many people as possible. However, they are stationary, immobile services homeless people must find the means and time to get to, often before or by a specified hour, to receive the services rendered. This is often not even close to being possible for many of those who fall through the cracks, leaving them to their own resources, wandering during the day and hunkering down at night, oftentimes in frightening and abusive weather conditions. When is the last time you worried about staying dry during an intense, cold and rainy lightning storm? Homeless people do so as the need arises.

Steel discusses the “cream” of homelessness and the plight of homeless people. Some homeless people easily qualify for government assistance and get the help they need. Outreach groups of concerned citizens also contribute to the best of their abilities, to help as many homeless people as possible. Steel referred to it all like emptying the ocean with a thimble. There is so much need, and not nearly enough resources and helpers to address it all.

Perhaps her book will inspire you. Maybe it will only encourage you to be more compassionate when you pass a homeless person in the street. Regardless of how this book affects you personally, I strongly encourage you to read it and discover a new perspective on the plight of homeless people. I hope you allow this book to open your heart just a little bit wider and reach out to those so desperately in need.