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Book Review; “Down Town, True Tales of Trial & Triumph on the Mean Streets” by Robert E. Lipscomb

July 24, 2007 Books, Downtown, Homeless, Religion 11 Comments

I’ve never been homeless and hope that is the case throughout my life but one should never assume they will never be in that situation. Author Robert Lipscomb takes the reader through his journey from the good life (penthouse apartment overlooking Forest Park) to, at 51, living homeless living in various shelters downtown.
After talking with a priest at the suburban church where his father was a founding member, Lipscomb prepares to be homeless:

“I’m heading into society’s version of Hell, called poverty and invisibility. The living ghost existence. But I am encouraged. I feel stronger than I have felt in a very long time. As I have virtually nothing, how can this be? Choosing not to examine this too closely right now, I begin selecting which items can fit in my backpack, which will contain the sum total of my earthly possessions for the future to come.”

Lipscomb’s strength turns to fear and anger and back to strength through his “adventure” on the streets. Along the way we learn how the “normal” homeless make fun of the ones who are crazy, the best wearing brand of shoes, and where to get a meal. Lipscomb’s writing was very engrossing, making me want to continue through to the end without a break.

Down Town is preachy only to the extent of the importance of “God” to Lipscomb, a perfectly reasonable expectation given the circumstances. The book’s intent is not to make those of us with homes feel guilty so that we give to charities. Furthermore, the book does not make out the homeless to be a homogeneous society we should all pity. Instead, Lipscomb shares his experiences and mindset as he goes from being new on the streets to being more seasoned.

Lipscomb also talks about What’s Up Magazine, the street newspaper sold by homeless to raise money, and its program director Jay Swoboda. Swoboda, if the name sounds familiar to you, is the main person behind the EcoUrban modular green housing project. Lipscomb was an original writer & vendor for What’s Up when Swoboda started it.

There were many times in the book where I could not keep from getting watery eyes. This book is an emotional roller coaster ride — a ride all of us would just as soon never experience in person.

I don’t want to give away any more information but I do highly recommend this book. You can order the book directly from Lipscomb at Eagle’s View Press, I bought my copy at local independent Left Bank Books. Or if you must, Amazon.


Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Matt B says:

    Steve, it isn’t clear from your post whether this was done by choice as a social experiment, or whether he was forced into this due to some unfortunate circumstance. I am assuming since he consulted with a clergy friend and “prepared”, that this was by choice.

    Either way is sounds interesting.

  2. Mary E. Homan, MA says:

    From Eagle Press’s website


    “And he who would save his life, must first lose it…”

    He had it all…money, his own business, a trophy wife who played a part in the Oscar-winning movie The Fugitive, a beautiful son, The American Dream. Then, in a series of stunning surrenders, he walked away from it all…What compels a man to leave it all behind and strike out onto the mean streets of a struggling city, to be homeless, broke, alone? And, what will he do, or even care enough about, to reclaim his life, discover his real self and the faith that life is actually worth living?

    These are the true tales of a white, middle-class man’s fall from grace, his Buddha-like renunciation of the world, and his inspirational climb back to the summit of true faith, new love and recovered prosperity. A new life that would not be a mere copy of his old existence, but rather one of a new and lasting purpose, strength and inner peace….As the old, industrial city finds its own new strength and vision in a seemingly miraculous redevelopment, both the man and his city ascend to a new urban destiny…a rebirth of both substance and soul.”

    FYI, SLPL does not have it but it will be ordered.

    [SLP — Thanks for adding this information Mary.  Yes, he had the good life and like happens for many, that good life ran a bit short.]

  3. Reginald Pennypacker III says:

    This guy sounds like a real idiot (assuming his story is true, which I would have my doubts). I certainly won’t be buying this self-published book.

    [SLP —You’ve not been very clear Reggie, what makes you think this man is an idiot and what part do you doubt is true? Do you doubt he was actually ever well off or that he was actually homeless? Are you saying he was an idiot for surviving as a homeless person or for becoming homeless?

    I personally found the book fascinating, enjoying the stories and the way in which they were told.]

  4. Reginald Pennypacker III says:

    Based on the synopsis posted, it sounds like he did this by choice. To somehow find strength and inner peace. Whatever that means.

  5. Ben H says:

    Anybody seen Your Virtual Alderman lately? I kind of miss em.
    Pennypacker, did you do something to him/her?

  6. Terry D says:

    It’s not clear from these descriptions exactly what he did. It seems that this was voluntary homelessness. How long did he do it for? How cut off was he from his old life?

    Although this might be an interesting book, I don’t think you can equate the experience of a wealthy and successful person who went into voluntary and temporary homelessness with that of someone who was driven into homelessness by a real reversal of fortunes. Whatever happened to the author, he knew in the back of his mind that he could walk away from it at any time and resume his former life in an instant. The truely homeless don’t have that option.

  7. Matt B says:

    ^ That is somewhat debateable. Difficult, yes. Impossible, no (perhaps for the mentally ill).

    From the discussion sounds like it was a combination of circumstances and choice. It would be interesting to see how difficult it is to move up from homelessness, not utilizing any of your previous contacts or experience.

    Similar to Morgan Spurlock’s (Supersize Me) show “30 Days” were he an his fiancee live for 30 days on minimum wage.

    [SLP – This was not voluntary although it appears he did not wait until removed from this abode by the authorities.  His homelessness was not a short lived experiment for the purposes of writing a book, that came years later.  After reading the book many of the details are still not clear — I would assume that whatever led to his homelessness may have cut off options for help from family and friends.  Perhaps stubborn pride got in the way?  I know I personally would exhaust my contacts before enduring what he did.  Again, this book is a great read and you do learn how he went from being homeless to not being homeless — I’m not going to give it away here.]

  8. Sharon LaRue says:

    Speaking as “the Sharon” mentioned in the book, I can attest to the fact that this guy is the real deal.

    I can assure you he did not embark upon this journey as an experiment. Although, he might have let pride get in the way of asking for help from family, he had indeed exhausted all possibilities and saw no way out. That is until……

    well, read the book!

    [SLP — Thanks Sharon for contributing to the discussion!  I could have spilled all the beans for the readers but I want you to read the book — it is well worth it.]

  9. Jeff Jackson says:

    This is a little bit akin to “Peace Pilgrim” http://www.peacepilgrim.com/ and the Voluntary Simplictity Movement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_living. Of which I am trying to learn and live from. Although it is more extreme to be homeless. I have respect for people who have to live that lifestyle. Whether it is 100% true or not will come out in time. I think it isn’t worth judging the man over it.


  10. What a curiousity it is for me to read how others intrepret the “trueness” of my tale. I have the sense that some do not want to believe that a person of seeming advantage can actually fall from grace so totally, such realization thus threatening our illusions of personal security and continuity. To those few who doubt the veracity of my story, I recommend some quick research into the nature and essence of clinical depression, the vast literature of American Existentialism and the meanings and permutations of a faith-based life. Peace and thanks to all.

  11. rexrandall says:

    Although I have not read the book (still looking a copy), through personal knowledge I can attest not only to the intellect and integrity of Robert, but also his seemingly endless energy to find a solution to not only his homelessness, but for others as well. If not for his friendship and that also of “Sharon” mentioned in the book, I could still be one of “those statistics” living on the streets of St. Louis.


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