Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Review: The Concrete Killing Fields by Pat Morgan

February 20, 2014
Mile High Press
Hardcover, $24.95
Trade paper, $18.95
eBook, $8.99
ISBN: 978-1885331557
400 pages


Gripping and gritty; fascinating and funny; mesmerizing yet motivating!
Have you ever wondered why we still have so many homeless people on the streets? Why so many people with mental illness, homeless or not, are in jails or prisons? Why so many people are such strong supporters of President Bill Clinton, and/or Hillary?

You need to wonder no longer. Pat Morgan has the answers. With her gift of story-telling, deep sense of compassion and rich Southern sense of humor, Morgan takes you on a ride...a kaleidoscope of adventures that few ever experience.

From the cotton fields of Arkansas to the concrete killing fields of Tennessee to the President’s box at the Kennedy Center you will open your eyes, your heart and discover that it is never too late to live out your dreams.



This book touched me deeply. Full of tragedy and hope. Pat is such a strong role model. Courageous and determined, she fought for everything she stood for, and didn't allow anything to hold her back. Even when she hit a few stumbling blocks, or when no one seemed to be listening, she stuck to her guns and went for it.

I work in a large city, and the number of homeless people I encounter on a daily basis is heartbreaking. People tend to judge those who are in need, but I often look at them and try to imagine who they used to be, or how they came to be homeless. Don't they have family? It really tears at my heart, because I cannot imagine being in their shoes. I think of my family and wonder if they'd ever allow me to get to that point. And then I thank God for all he has ever given me in life, and I try to be a better person. Someone like Pat, who gave of herself without prejudice, reaching out to those lost souls who had no where else to go.

Some of the tales in this story were heartbreaking. When I think back to some of the people Pat met along her journey; people like Arthur who was so close to changing his life, when a cruel twist of fate meant he'd never get the opportunity. Or Alepeachie, a bright man who had so much to offer if only given the chance. Pat didn't give up, when most would have, and she gained his trust, while he found a place in her heart. This book is filled with so many stories of hope where there should be none, and all due to the people who gave more of themselves to make the world a better place, even if it meant only making a difference in one person's life. Sometimes, that change comes to one's own life.

This book has many life lessons. It shocked me a little, because some of the misconceptions we as society have about homeless people were just devastating. It was a fascinating read, with interesting people who will make you question your own purpose in life. A great book.


Marissa Curnutte



Author Pat Morgan pours heart into ‘The Concrete Killing Fields’


MEMPHIS, Tenn. – How did a former real estate broker, banker and recovering political junkie find herself counting homeless people on the streets of Memphis? Just ask Pat Morgan, the author of “The Concrete Killing Fields: One Woman’s Battle to Break the Cycle of Homelessness” (February 20, Mile High Press).


Morgan answered the call from the concrete killing fields of homelessness – and found her calling 30 years ago. Since then, she has worked to help homeless people break the cycle of shelters, streets and, for far too many with mental illness, the eventual outcome that includes a misdirected stay in jails and prisons.  


The author revisits those early years in her stories of the homeless people she tried to help, with and without success, during the five years she served as a volunteer and then as the unpaid director of the Street Ministry, a drop-in/resource center for the “street people” of Memphis, Tenn. Those stories, plus her stories about the mental health professionals who were invaluable in stabilizing and housing some of her most troubled homeless friends, and Morgan’s personal history of losses, unconscionable mistakes and the redemptive power of unconditional love are the heart and soul of her book.


Morgan also shares her “wildly improbable” journey from Calvary’s basement to Rhodes College, her selection at age 50 by Time Magazine as one of 20 outstanding college juniors in America, her subsequent move to the nation’s capital, and her work on the Clinton for President campaign and the presidential transition which resulted in a presidential appointment to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the pinnacle of power in policy-making on homelessness. 


Early reviewers have been unanimous in their praise for the book.


“A searing glimpse into a lifetime of stories, some yet waiting to be told,” says Dr. Jan Young, executive director of the Assisi Foundation of Memphis. “A compelling, heartfelt account told with the same passion that Pat Morgan demonstrated while serving individuals previously invisible to many. The stories will remain with you long after reading the last lines of the final chapter.”


Following her return from Washington, Pat Morgan retired in 2011 after serving as the executive director of Partners for the Homeless for 11 years. “The Concrete Killing Fields” is her first book.
Check out all the stops in this tour on the JKSCommunications Virtual Tour Page 

Praise for “The Concrete Killing Fields”

by Pat Morgan

“To read Pat Morgan’s ‘The Concrete Killing Fields’ is to travel with those our nation has left behind. In bravely revealing her own journey alongside our nation’s homeless men, women and children, Pat helps us understand both how we can help them and how we can learn from them.” – Fred Karnas, Social Investment Officer, Kresge Foundation, Troy, Mich.; former Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, Interim Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs Programs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
“Readers, be warned! Pat’s ‘must tell’ testament is compelling and contagious, relentless and raw, inspired and inspiring.” – The Rev. Dr. Douglass M. Bailey, President and Founder, Center for Urban Ministry, Inc., Winston-Salem, N.C.;  former rector of Calvary Episcopal Church (Memphis) and Assistant Professor of Urban Ministry at Wake Forest University School of Divinity
“Pat Morgan is extraordinary. ‘The Concrete Killing Fields’ tells the story of homelessness, addiction and mental illness in a very personal and compelling way.” – Kelly Carnes, Founder, President, and CEO of TechVision21, Washington, D.C.; former aide to First Lady Hillary Clinton, former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Technology Policy, Washington, D.C.
“Pat Morgan is a national treasure. No one understands the problem of homelessness in America better than Pat, and she brings that knowledge to life in the rich descriptions of ‘The Concrete Killing Fields.’” – Marcus Pohlmann, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, Rhodes College, Memphis; American Mock Trial Coaches Hall of Fame; author of “Black Politics in Conservative America;” “Landmark Congressional Laws on Civil Rights”
“‘The Concrete Killing Fields’ is not just a book about homelessness or struggles or pain. It is a beautifully written book about one woman’s journey to discover herself, fulfill livelong ambitions, and do her best to provide relief, in whatever form, to those she encounters.” – Betsy Bird, Captain, U.S. Navy retired. Former Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs; Public Affairs Officer for Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Public Affairs Officer for the Chief of Naval Personnel, Washington, D.C.
“Pat Morgan is a model for all who have expressed concerns about the homeless population.” – E. Fuller Torrey, MD, Founder, Treatment Advocacy Center and author of “Nowhere to Go: The Tragic Odyssey of the Homeless Mentally Ill,” “Criminalizing the Seriously Mentally Ill: The Abuse of Jails as Mental Hospitals,” “The Insanity Offense: How America’s Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens”


Pat Morgan is a self-confessed political junkie and “Arkansas Traveler” veteran of the Clinton for President and Clinton-Gore campaigns. She is also a mostly unsuccessful political candidate (won one, lost two), a former elected official in county government, an unabashed policy wonk and relentless advocate for effective services, especially mental health care and housing for homeless people.

She is also an expert on the subject, having received numerous awards, including the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’ 2006 Innovation Award (in a Republican administration) for her contributions to ending chronic homelessness. Learning enough to be an expert on homelessness, she says, might have been deadly dull if she hadn’t learned her most important lessons from listening to hundreds of “street people” with “staggering levels of disabilities” and battling to secure the services and housing that would help them break the cycle of streets, shelters, hospitals and jails.

A real estate broker and former banker (occupations not necessarily noted for altruism), Pat answered the call from the concrete killing fields of homelessness – found her calling – and lived out her dreams. It’s been a “wildly improbable ride,” she says, one that has taken her from the cotton fields and dusty streets of a tiny town in Arkansas to the Street Ministry in the heart of the concrete killing fields of Memphis, Tenn., to the highest level of federal policy making in the nation’s capital.
Totally frustrated with the lack of resources for homeless people, and deeply concerned at the rising body count from the concrete killing fields, Pat resigned as the unpaid director of The Street Ministry and enrolled in Rhodes College “mostly to get the credentials to go with what I’d already learned so I’d have a more credible voice in developing policies.” She already had a degree from the “school of hard knocks,” having graduated magna cum laude in “street smarts.” Luckily, her three grown, independent, sons were supportive (after she promised not to go out for cheerleader), especially after she was selected at age 50 by Time Magazine as a “Rising Star,” one of “20 Outstanding College Juniors in America.” Being featured in Time led to a Washington semester in American politics at American University, and an internship in the office of then-Sen. Al Gore, for whom she’d campaigned when he’d sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1988.
But it was her long-standing, rock solid support of then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton that would result in a presidential appointment to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, then a working group of the White House Domestic Policy Council. That would come after she’d tromped through the snowy streets of New Hampshire, worked days, nights and weekends at the Washington Operations Office, and then organized and directed the Office of Presidential Correspondence at the Office of Presidential Transitions. Throughout it all, she was driven by the memories of the “street people” she’d loved and lost to the concrete killing fields and those still most at-risk.
An engaging, experienced public speaker with a refreshing sense of humor to balance the seriousness of her work, Pat is available for speaking engagements, short-term consulting and even shorter advice by email.

Q&A with Pat Morgan
How has your perception of homelessness changed over the years?
In some ways, it hasn’t changed. I figured out very quickly that homelessness is a symptom of broader, deeper, more intractable issues. For the “street people,” it was pretty easy to identify mental illness and substance abuse and almost impossible to get a psychotic man or woman who desperately needed inpatient treatment involuntarily committed. Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed. On the other hand, I now know a lot more about early child development, the critical years of brain development from 0-3, and the trauma-informed services that are critical to breaking the intergenerational cycle of homelessness. And the more I learn, the more I’m convinced that some of the seeds of homelessness are sown in the womb.
It sounds like you learned a lot about yourself during your years of working with homeless people. Is “The Concrete Killing Fields” also a story of self-discovery?
Absolutely. At its core, homelessness is about losses—losses of health, mental health, jobs, loved ones, families and friends that might have been able and willing to be counted on to help when the chips were down. All too often the losses are people or things they never had—most often a caring, committed father in their lives. Asking many of them for information about their fathers is like asking them when they last saw aliens from Mars. I understood that all too well, except for me, it was my mother that I knew so little about. Nevertheless, listening to them tell their stories and trying to help them deal with their losses led me to deal with my own losses. And though writing the Concrete Killing Fields was very painful at times, it became a wonderfully healing experience. 
Wasn’t it heartbreaking to see people struggling on the streets?
Of course it was. It still is, especially for those who are so sick they don’t know they’re sick. Far too many lack insight into their illness and their condition and therefore aren’t willing or able to accept housing, shelter, services or treatment. During extremely cold or extremely hot weather, that can mean the difference between life and death. Frankly, there would be thousands more on the streets if they weren’t in jails and prisons all over America for misdemeanors and more serious crimes that are a direct result of untreated mental illness and the lack of mental health services. I really want to stress that this isn’t the fault of the mental health professionals who devote their lives to doing all they can do for them—with extremely limited resources. They know what to do. They just need the resources to do it.
Does your book include any success stories?
Yes, keeping in mind that too many of our “success stories” often fall apart before we’re finished writing them. (The ones I included were pretty solid.) I had planned to do a chapter on “the ones who got away” but ran out of space. I am planning to include their stories and any updates in “Return to the Concrete Killing Fields.”  And though I didn’t know for a long time how my personal story would end in the book, I guess it’s a success story too, even though it will always be accompanied by survivor’s guilt. I not only survived but got to live out my dreams when so many of the street people never had that chance.
What are some common misconceptions about “street people?”
1. That all panhandlers are homeless people. Frankly, probably half of all panhandlers aren’t homeless at all. Many, if not most, panhandlers, are so addicted and desperate that they panhandle to get money for alcohol or other drugs. Others have just found out how gullible people, especially nice people, can be, and/or that “hustling” beats a minimum wage job.
2. That the “street people” have made a rational “choice” to live on the streets, eat out of garbage cans, lose fingers, toes, feet or their lives to frigid temperatures, or die of heatstroke. (Fred died on the park bench behind my church. The heat index was 105 and he was wearing three sweaters and a woolen cap.) Then again, some of them have simply burned all their bridges with shelter operators and other providers of services or they sleep on the streets or in abandoned buildings because they can’t take their alcohol or drugs into the shelters. So addicted that they can’t imagine not having the alcohol or drugs with them at all times, they just tell people they “choose” to stay outside because the shelters are unsafe. (I contend that even if some of them are unsafe, they’re probably a lot safer than the streets.)
3. That all homeless people are victims of a cruel, heartless society. Homeless adults are just as capable of making poor choices in their lives as we are. 
How does your book touch on the issues of addiction and mental illness among the homeless?
Primarily through the stories about homeless people, all of which are true. For instance, nobody explained addiction more clearly to me than Applejack.) But I also touch on it briefly through my own  of having been married to two alcoholics (not at the same time). But my front-line observations and experiences about the prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse among homeless people are backed up by local and national data. Dr. Peter Rossi’s groundbreaking study of the “street people” in Chicago in which he identified “staggering levels of disabilities” verified everything I was seeing at the Street Ministry in Memphis in the early 1980s. The U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless’ massive national study in 1996 further validated my perceptions, and local and national data today back it up as well. Not surprisingly, the prevalence of substance abuse and mental illness among homeless individuals doesn’t seem to have changed much at all. I also write about the frustration that those of us who aren’t saints, social workers, or substance abuse or mental health experts experience when we’re trying to help homeless people struggling with these issues. I also threw in some humor with my “Twelve Steps for Do-Gooders,” in which I poke a lot of fun at myself.
You’re a self-described political junkie. Can you tell us a little about how you brought your passion for homeless advocacy to the political realm?
In retrospect, it was a wildly improbable journey—one that I’d never expected to undertake. In other ways, it seemed almost like a natural progression. I’d actually been more of a political activist than a political junkie before I moved to Memphis. I’d been elected and served a term on the Quorum Court (county commission) in Crittenden County, Arkansas where I’d also run for state representative and county judge (losing both races). During those years I’d fought some pretty tough battles over issues that I cared deeply about but I’d also been a rock-solid supporter of Governor Bill Clinton. I’d sworn off local politics when I got to Memphis but that didn’t mean I was through with national politics. Everybody in Arkansas expected Clinton to run for President at some point in time and I fully expected to get involved in the campaign in some way when he did. But I had no idea that my passion
for finding a better way—and a system—for helping homeless people would take me back to college and on to Washington where I’d be positioned to work full-time on his campaign.  In addition, I’d met then-Senator Al Gore when he came to Memphis to talk with some of us about homelessness and housing and what the federal government was doing—or not doing, and then campaigned for him when he ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1988.
That made blending my passion for homelessness with my passion for progressive politics easy.  I’d already learned a lot about the Federal role in mental health from my friends in the mental health field who were struggling to provide the mental health services with far too little funding. For example, it was the Federal government that had brought about deinstitutionalization, then failed to allocate the funding for the mental health centers to adequately provide treatment and services for the people who’d left the institutions. It was the Federal government that had then gutted the funding for mental health and housing in 1980. Capping off my degree in political science with a Washington Semester in American Politics at American University, I’d produced an 80-page research project titled “The Search for a National Mental Health Policy.” (There wasn’t one and none of the dozens of organizations and governmental sources I surveyed knew who was responsible for producing one.)
When Governor Clinton announced he was running for President, I didn’t think twice about volunteering on his campaign. Even though homelessness wasn’t a big issue in Arkansas (simply because there weren’t many homeless people there), I knew he cared deeply about people, and would do everything he could to help disadvantaged people make the most of their lives. Volunteering on the campaign quickly led to a paid position that paid my rent and kept me in the loop enough that I was much more likely to end up in the administration. Frankly, the doors just seemed to open. I’d “caught the wave” I mention in the book and while it was politics that took me where I wanted to go, it was my passion for breaking the cycle of homelessness that drove me to get there.
Is the government doing enough to put a stop to homelessness, or is that even the government’s role in the first place?
Of course government isn’t doing enough. If it was doing enough, and doing it well, we wouldn’t have so many poorly educated, unemployed, unemployable, poverty-stricken, homeless and precariously people. State, county and city governments are all over the map as to what they’re doing to address homelessness and how well they’re doing it and a lot of what they’re doing is funded by the Feds. As for the Federal government, the vast majority of funds appropriated by the Congress to the various departments and agencies are allocated for block grants or specific uses and most try to serve as many people as they can with the money they have. That means that the people who are the most troubled are far less likely to show up to try to get the help they need. Nevertheless, I think most of the Federal departments and agencies are doing the best they can with the funding they get that is specifically allocated to serve homeless people. There’s always room for improvement, but I think HUD has done an exceptional job with their “Continuum of Care” funding specifically for housing, operations and services for homeless people. HUD doesn’t accept individual applications for funding. It requires applicants to work together through their designated “lead agency” to identify resources, quantify needs, and meet identified goals. Leveraging private funds and funding from other governmental sources is also strongly encouraged.  Because it works so well, the funding had increased every year over the past two decades until a couple of years ago when partisan politics reached a new high (or low). Unfortunately as funding for HUD’s Continuum of Care increased, cuts or flat funding of mainstream programs meant that they were even less able to provide the level of housing and services needed and the Continuum of Care system of housing and services became the “safety net” for the people who couldn’t get the help they needed from “mainstream” programs.  For the most part, it works well and the number of people who are homeless at a point-in-time and over the course of a year has decreased slightly, but there’s no end in sight to the stream of individuals and families falling into homelessness.
But it’s not all the government’s fault. The folks back home are the ones who decide how much they want or are willing to let government do and right now, an extremely vocal minority doesn’t seem to want the government to do much at all to address the issues that create and perpetuate poverty and homelessness. I don’t know why they think that churches and non-profits and charitable foundations can meet all the needs. In Memphis, often listed as the most generous city in the country when it comes to charitable giving, they do a lot and do it well, but there’s not enough money to meet more than a fraction of the needs.
What can people do to help the homeless population in their own community?
It depends on how much time and/or money they’re able and willing to devote to helping, and whether they want to help a specific homeless person, a particular subset of the homeless population, or whether they just want to help homeless people, period. Regardless, it’s always best to do some homework first. There are almost 500 “Continuum of Care” “lead agencies” in cities, counties, regions and states all across the country. All of them have extensive information on the number of homeless people and the resources available to help them, e.g., outreach programs, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing programs. Many, if not most of the lead agencies have websites that include that information.  Pick out a program that pricks your heartstrings and make some inquiries as to what the program needs and what you can do to help. HUD’s website www.hudinfo.gov or www.onecpd.gov also has great information about national, local, and statewide numbers, needs, and contact information for the people in charge of the lead agency, usually a coalition of some sort. If you want to “deep-dive,” go for HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to congress.  It’s a great resource. There are also some excellent national advocacy groups that would love to have your help. The National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and the National Coalition for the Homeless all have a different focus but all are committed to ending homelessness.
If you find it as difficult as I do to pass a homeless person who clearly needs help, first check to see if there is an outreach team in your area that is already working with the person and ask if you can do anything to help. A little kindness goes a long way.

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