A middle-class professional woman suddenly finds herself without money and homeless in the middle of a Minneapolis winter. Without Keys is the story of the author’s experiences, and the stories of the people she encountered on the street.
People become homeless for many reasons. Alcohol, drug abuse, and mental illness are the stereotypes. However, there are also battered women, high-school dropouts, abused children, ex-cons no one would hire, and children who had been thrown out by irresponsible parents. There was even a priest who at retirement was told the Order was bankrupt, and there were no retirement funds. Other homeless people had been laid-off. Some people had been bankrupted by medical expenses. Very few were on the street by choice.
This wide-ranging book contains vignettes of dozens of street people. The interviews are reminiscent of those in Studs Terkel’s books.
It tells of the struggles to live when you have to carry all your possessions with you, when you can’t call for an appointment because you don’t have a quarter, when there’s no place to receive mail or phone calls, when there’s no way to clean up and dress for a job interview. It tells of how others relate to the homeless, and the dichotomy of being an office worker with a temp job from 8-5, and a street person the rest of the day.
Without Keys contains numerous extracts from a journal kept by McDonough during her experience, and delves into not only the day-to-day details but also the psychological and spiritual struggle, the sociology, and the politics of homelessness. There are also sections dedicated to social workers, church volunteers, nutrition and feeding programs, and public policy.
Pat’s book forced Federal, State, Local, and 501(c)3 programs serving the homeless to make big improvements. It resulted in the creation of The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness at the federal level. USICH has made it possible for there to be coordination of programs and cooperation among agencies and at various levels of government, and between the public, nonprofit, and faith-based initiatives. The USICH’s next step is:
[Our] Plan outlines an interagency collaboration that aligns mainstream housing, health, education, and human services to prevent Americans from experiencing homelessness. As the most far-reaching and ambitious plan to end homelessness in our history, this Plan will both strengthen existing partnershipsemdash;such as the combined effort of HUD and the Veterans Affairs to help homeless Veterans, and forge new partnerships between agencies like HUD, HHS, and the Department of Labor.
There is also a push to provide housing to all humans who need a place to stay.
Recommended for those who enjoy “real-life” vignettes, those interested in the public policy and sociological aspects of homelessness, and students of peace and justice studies. Also doctors, nurses, dentists and psychologists who serve poor patients and family members with someone they can’t understand. Suitable also for general reading adults and most high school students.
Pat McDonough, a graduate of American University School of Government & Public Administration, Washington, DC, is the proud mother of two grown sons, and grandmother of five boys. Writing and editing have been a life-long vocation. She was editor of the high school paper at Academy of the Holy Cross and received a scholarship to study journalism at Catholic University. It happened to be a presidential election year and as a campaign worker, she quickly took on more and more challenging assignments to prepare campaign literature, position papers, legislation, and even to assisting with press releases for the Office of the President.
While attending American University at night, Pat worked as a writer/researcher under contract to the National Association of Counties’ Research Foundation (NACORF). There she researched and wrote for the US Public Health Service and County Government Magazine Solid Waste Management for use by county government officials. One chapter reprinted as a stand-alone booklet, Gaining and Maintaining Public Acceptance in Solid Waste Management, became a best seller at the Government Printing Office the following year.
After reading the Maryland Constitution written in colonial times, Ms. McDonough became annoyed by the sexist language, inclusion of obsolete occupations (e.g. horse apple collector), regulation of parking in the City of Baltimore, and other things that had been tacked onto the document. She convinced others to join with her, and in a seven-year effort, they created a Sample Model Constitution For the State of Maryland. It was a catalyst for the State Constitutional Reform movement which took off across the country.
After 1981, events made it clear that the composition of homeless people in America had changed. Patients had been dumped on the street as an unintended consequence of the Least Restrictive Setting Supreme Court ruling about confinement of the mentally ill. She took up the challenge to make the plight of the homeless real to people who could make a difference. Pat McDonough’s book, Without Keys, My 15 Weeks With the Street People, was in the final round for a Pulitzer Prize in biography in 1997.
Pat spent ten years as a volunteer counselor helping friends and families create effective care teams to assist persons with terminal illness. She helped to formulate more than 450 such teams in numerous states.
Her interest in architecture, housing, real estate and development led to the creation of Pat McDonough Consulting Services. As generalist consultant with specialties in affordable housing development, construction management, home inspection, mortgage finance, and non-profit management, she put together complex financial deals, physically relocated 7 houses and apartment buildings, built more than 45 homes, and renovated or was responsible for the renovation of more than 300 homes. And she became a private home inspector, who inspected so many hundreds of residential structures that she stopped counting.
In 2000, Pat officially retired from building inspection, construction management, mortgage banking and home renovation work for others, to renovate her own home and devote more time to writing, editing, and book publishing.
As a free-lance writer, she has had numerous articles and photographs published. She is presently a member of the Space Coast Writers’ Guild and formerly a member of the 2nd Monday Photographers’ Guild. Pat has been President of Minnesota Independent Scholars’ Forum; Treasurer of Midwest Independent Publishers’ Association; former member, Publishers’ Marketing Association; Vice President of the Minnesota Society of Housing Inspectors, and was on the editorial staff of Literary Liftoff magazine.
In addition to the book Without Keys, she authored From Rough to Ready, an Editor’s Tips for Writers. See description later on this website. She has co-authored several books and helped numerous authors self-publish, including Seeta Begui’s Eighteen Brothers and Sisters and Mark Nathan’s A World Too Far, Stories in Poems and Songs and most recently Come Back Strong, A Widow’s Song by Eileen McQuire Whaley winner of the prestigious Living Now Evergreen Gold Medal Award for Health and Wellness.
Pat also does research for customers who want to discover more about their ancestry and publish it for family members. She has published five such limited-edition books.
Ms. McDonough now makes her living editing and coaching writers who intend to become authors. Since 1986, she has edited hundreds of books and most have become published. She has chosen to publish some of them. There are more in the pipeline. See her McDONOUGH CONSULTING business listing on the Additional Resources page.
- Greg Horan, Past President, Minnesota and St. Paul Coalitions to End Homelessness said: Without Keys is one of the two great books on homelessness. The other is Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. Pat tells her story in a way that is meaningful to the reader and true to the life on the street. I urge everyone to read this book.
- Phyllis King Marzano said: Love, love, love, love, love your book! I couldn’t put it down.
- Judity Erdmann said: Discover revealing and enlightening insights into homelessness in Without Keys: My 15 Weeks With the Street People, by Pat McDonough. This exciting page-turner was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. This book was first to challenge the too-restrictive economic policies of the Federal Reserve! Without Keys even questions the basis of A.H. Maslow’s hierarchy of need! Through the eyes of the author, a middle-class woman, the book Without Keys gives the reader an experience of homelessness, accessing social services, exchanging conversation, and hearing stories of the street people. It is a comprehensive primer on the successes and weaknesses of the system that provides services to homeless people. How does it change them? What works and what doesn’t?—not only for homeless people but also the social service providers and volunteers. The sections on medical care, dental care, nutrition and mental health may surprise you.
- Marge Hartung said: This book is a 15-week diary of the author’s life experiences while she was staying in a shelter with homeless people. It is easy reading and it grabs your attention so that you do not want to put the book down. It is a must read.
- David J. Schultz, Metro State University, Minneapolis, MN said: I teach a class on Homelessness and have used this book for several years. Not only do I enjoy re-reading this book each year, but every class has found this book to be the best book of the class.
- Edgar Millar, “Ed’s Notes” East Tennessee Catholic 1/26/97 p.2. said: Ms. McDonough’s vignettes of the street people she encountered dramatically challenge one’s assumptions about who the street people really are. She shows them as individual human beings, some with mental illness, some with alcohol and drug problems, a few ex-convicts, some just squeezed out by the ‘System,’ some of the street people she encountered were well-educated, some holding advanced degrees. She even met an aging Catholic priest whose Order had paid no Social Security for him and which had no funds to take care of him.
- Senator Paul Wellstone (Dem. MN, now deceased): I am awed by how you have overcome personal tragedy to do such good for our community. Your book on the street people of Minneapolis provides excellent insight to the diverse issues affecting the homeless in America.
- Mary Etta Kiefer, Book Review, The Message of Southwestern Indiana: [This] Book about street people is authentic. Without Keys is a study of systemic failure. It is recommended reading for students in the social and political sciences, lawmakers, and ministers in peace and justice. Its usefulness as a teaching tool, however, does not overshadow the other by-product of this work—the visions and sounds of the people, their stories, and the skewed systems that help to birth these struggles.
Ginny Hansen, Book Review, Minneapolis, MN said: When McDonough was still writing her book, she came to speak to my businesswomen's group about it—and gradually dressed, as she spoke, in the clothes she wore when she was homeless. There was a powerful impact in noting differences in how we ‘heard’ her then, from how we’d ‘heard’ her when she was seen to be ‘like us,’ minutes before. We averted our eyes. One member said it was one of the most memorable talks we’d heard in 15 years of monthly programs.
The book does that too; it makes it uncomfortable to see street people as ‘them’ rather than ‘us.’ ‘There, but for a good break, go I’—not to mention the realigning of one’s perception of ‘There but for the grace of God,’ for there are many excerpts in the book (from her journal at the time) that address the painful spiritual growth that results from such a wrenching experience. I no longer think that I could survive even a few days, if I suddenly found myself to be a baglady, yet I’d always thought of myself as resourceful, resilient, frugal, educated, and middle class.
Think again. I’d need a lot of help.
This country cannot afford to pretend that Americans who are (usually temporarily) indisposed far enough to have lost their living quarters for the moment are somehow different or ‘un-American.’ They are us. What we do about those of us with these problems—including the elderly and the ill—may someday become very personally relevant and (if we don’t do better, faster) could become a big national problem. The housing situation in Minneapolis at the moment is veering sharply away from keeping some of us in affordable housing who used to be ‘the working poor’ rather than ‘the homeless.’ The situation needs to be addressed by those in legislatures, healthcare, social services, and volunteer groups. This book can help them to understand better. Very often the real view from the street is not understood by those who ‘help’ them, as when the physician who treats the understandably ulcerated feet of those who have no place to sit down, let alone a sink with warm water, tells the patient to ‘soak her feet.’ Right. How?
This book is about a well-educated and capable adult woman and her children, who was literally forced to be homeless by the court system. Given a similar set of circumstances, we could all be in her shoes! This book tells a straight forward story of how the author became homeless, what she did to cope, and how she dragged her family out of this overwhelming situation.
- James V. Larson, Book Review, Minneapolis, MN said: This book should be read by anyone, adult or teen, who has become too familiar with the good things that many Americans feel entitled to.
- Marie E. Roman, educator said: My eyes are really opening regarding the homeless and their plight, as well as that of the social workers. How hard it must be to stay sane and balanced due to the obstacles in their way of progress . . . and all the red tape!! Without Keys should be read by everyone.
Without Keys is suitable for general reading and also as a university textbook for programs in peace and justice studies, social services, sociology, cross-cultural training, clinical nurses serving the homeless, and contemporary cultural anthropology.
It’s a natural to augment course reading in social work, nutrition, medical services, psychology, and ministry.
The Index can be used as a checklist in evaluating services to homeless people in one’s own community. Some service providers to homeless people are using the book as sensitivity training for staff and volunteers.
Has been used as a textbook at many universities.
- BISAC CODE
- GN.320M ANTROPOLOGY/ GENERAL/ Special