True Stories

A Conversation With Street Logic Author Steve Sundberg

By | Mar 23, 2011

Street Logic author Steve Sundberg

Street Logic has been praised as “The most closely observed, emotionally charged account of American homelessness I know” by Harvard University Professor of Social Policy Christopher Jencks.

This reality based novel was derived from author Steve Sundberg’s experiences as a shelter counselor and street outreach worker to the men and women who lived and died under the bridges, in the alleys, along the waterfront, in the parks, graveyards and on the streets the City of Boston during his nine years of service to them.

Our recent series of communications and conversations with the author covered topics ranging from his frustrations as an outreach worker with few acceptable options to offer to his final determination to “do something” to bring attention to “the terribleness of street life.”

When asked why he decided to write this book as fiction instead of as a memoir, Sundberg replied thoughtfully, “Fiction can tell the truth as well as the truth and sometimes even more powerfully” and that fiction allowed him to “open up” about the raw truth of homelessness while simultaneously protecting the identities of the real homeless people who inspired his characters.

Fiction also gave Sundberg the opportunity to make the harsh topic of homelessness more entertaining and allowed him to introduce a protagonist to the story named Axel Hazzard. In contrast to the struggling and suffering homeless characters in Street Logic, Axel is a charming and youthful professional who lives an adventurous and sometimes romantic personal life among friends and co-workers while also serving, like Sundberg, as a street outreach worker.

Sundberg revealed “…there was great trauma in nearly every single story” he told and explained that his goal in writing Street Logic was to alert people to the “hard core cases,” that is, to those often physically and/ or psychiatrically disabled individuals, some of whom are addicts, many of whom are our nation’s veterans, who live outdoors in extreme weather conditions and who often do not want to “go in,” as the author put it, to a shelter or even to a hospital when they need treatment and might be at risk of death.

Sundberg commented “There are many out there who are not looking for major changes, who are managing somehow, and with a little help seem to continue to manage. Not well, but they do.”

He continued, “Then there are the worst case scenarios, and as a street outreach worker, these people become the focus … it’s that population of highly vulnerable ones… who often simply can’t make a decision, and are in grave danger. I wanted Street Logic to show that.”

In discussing the importance of what he called the “can’t” issue, Sundberg bemoaned the reality that while there are programs available to help those who are “ready, willing and able… Street Logic, as I see it, is about the people who are unready and unwilling, unable.”

Recent research conducted by Jim O’Connell, MD, revealed that homeless people are at a 4-5 times greater risk of death than housed people. O’Connell is a physician who treats homeless people and with whom Sundberg often collaborated on the medical outreach van in Boston.

Sundberg supports “Housing First” initiatives but he expressed a wish that there were another option available as well, perhaps a farm, wherein the most highly vulnerable, homeless people could be nurtured and cared for in a more rural, healing environment. “To let someone remain on the street when they are incontinent and barely able to stand up, let alone make it to a shelter or soup kitchen, is to me a serious neglect of responsibility” although he clarified, “…if a person can take care of themselves on the street, society has no right to intervene.”

Sundberg characterized homelessness as “the last hidden dirty laundry in the United States” and agreed that Street Logic would be a useful tool for the study of homelessness. “The more we know about an injustice,” he said, “it gets into the psyche of a community and people will do something about it.”

When asked for a final comment, he replied “I hope as many people as possible will read this book and that someone who is in a position of influence, ideally from Boston, a Matt Damon or Ben Affleck kind of guy, would see this as a worthy project to promote, so the message gets out there. A movie, even, that would raise awareness, and ultimately resources, to help with solutions for our own citizens who are in the greatest need.”


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