By David Gordon, Associate Editor
This year’s five programs in the “One Book, One Community” series gave participants an opportunity to focus on how eviction and homelessness affect the Chippewa Valley, according to Isa Small, programming manager at Eau Claire’s L. E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.
They also had an impact beyond the programs’ audiences by promoting a greater awareness of these topics in the community, she said.
The programs “allowed us to provide a clearer picture of what’s happening in the community,” Small said in a recent interview with the CVPost.
Attendance ranged from 23 to a high of 74 people at the programs which ran from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, she said. A few people went to all five programs, but most attended a lesser number, she said. The city Library co-sponsored the series with the McIntyre Library at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, with help from the public Library’s Friends group.
The programs were structured around Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, an award-winning book by UW-Madison alumnus Matthew Desmond. Small said that Desmond will be coming to Eau Claire next October through a collaborative effort between the UW-EC Forum Series and the Chippewa Valley Book Festival.
Desmond is an associate professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. degree from UW-Madison in 2010 and was awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” in 2015.
His book was selected as one of the 10 best books of 2016 by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. It illustrates the human impact of a shifting economic and policy landscape and documents the increasingly frequent experience of housing instability for poor, renting families, through the stories of eight Milwaukee families.
“I was very pleased with the results” of the five programs, Small said, adding that they provided an opportunity for the two libraries and the city to work together in focusing on a single issue. She said that the Library stocked 100 copies of the Desmond book in anticipation of the programs and all 100 were checked out.
The program will be repeated but probably on a different topic and with programs spaced over more than a single week, Small said. Whenever that happens, the topic will revolve around a good book, she added.
Small said she measured the success of this year’s programs not just by attendance but also by the questions that were asked and people asking how they could get involved in influencing public policy. She added that one goal of the program was to get conversations started on the subject of homelessness, in the community at large and over dinner tables.
Topic Paralleled Some of Poverty Summit’s Focus
The series took place during the Poverty Summit discussions sponsored by Clear Vision Eau Claire, where one of nine action teams is focused on housing issues. (For an article on how the Poverty Summit is progressing, click here.)
Small said that she wasn’t aware of the Poverty Summit’s focus on housing when the Desmond book was chosen as the centerpiece for the series.
“I was aware that there are a lot of efforts in our area” in regard to housing and homelessness, she said, including Clear Vision Eau Claire, Progressive OutReach to our Community’s Homeless (PORCH), and the Eau Claire Area School District Homeless Program.
Nearly 300 families and individuals in Eau Claire County were evicted in 2015 and roughly 360 students in the Eau Claire Area School District are homeless, according to Small.
The series of programs began with a pair of discussions of Desmond’s book on the first day, one led by Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters and Library Director Pamela Westby and the other by John Pollitz, director of the McIntyre Library.
The following day a panel discussion featured three UW-EC faculty members and Leader-Telegram reporter Julian Emerson, who has reported extensively on homelessness. Faculty panelists, who shared their research related to topics covered in Evicted, included Peter Hart-Brinson (Sociology), Jason Spraitz (Criminal Justice) and Mallory Knipe (Social Work).
“The university was a great partner,” Small said. “They were able to bring in the research” that put local information into a larger context.
The final two programs in the series were a panel discussion focused on how eviction, homelessness and poverty impact the Chippewa Valley, and a session dealing with City-County Health Department programs to support safe and sanitary living conditions.
“One Book, One Community” is a reading program designed to encourage both literacy and civic involvement by encouraging the reading of a single book that highlights a relevant community issue. It traces its origins back to 1998 at the Washington Center for the Book, and has expanded to include communities nationwide which have embraced the idea of civic unity through the reading of literature. The Washington Center for the Book was founded in 1977 by Daniel J. Boorstin, then the Librarian of Congress, to promote literacy, libraries and reading in general.