Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Envisioning Better Lives for the People of ‘Nomadland’

To the Editor:

Re “The Harsh Reality Behind ‘Nomadland,’” by Jessica Bruder (Sunday Review, April 25):

Can’t we do better? Is our country’s safety net so shredded that all we can hope for are laws that allow people who are relegated to sleeping in cars and vans a quiet night in the parking lot of some mall?

Ms. Bruder’s book, “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” certainly put a scorching spotlight on the structural issues, especially the desperate lack of affordable housing, plaguing those struggling with low-wage jobs and loss of work. The story is emblematic of how we’ve consigned so many, in towns and municipalities all across our nation, not only to their vans and cars, but to the streets and parks as a substitute for the warmth and security of a home.

And we’ve all seen these nomads in our neighborhoods. They’re moving not necessarily on wheels but trudging along on foot from park bench to park bench or from street to street.

But let’s not dismiss their plight as some lifestyle choice. Or try to absolve ourselves by relying on old, outmoded notions of personal responsibility.

Rather, in the end it’s large systemic failures that are the underlying cause of the problem. Our nation’s housing affordability crisis takes center stage. But so should access to quality health care, as well as investments that create an infrastructure of opportunity for those in need, if we care to move beyond the status quo.

Arnold S. Cohen
New York
The writer is former president of Partnership for the Homeless.

To the Editor:

“Nomadland,” both the book and the deeply moving Oscar-winning film, touched a nerve for me.

In researching my nonfiction book, “The Murder of a Shopping Bag Lady,” I slept many nights on park benches, in subway stations and in vermin-infested city homeless shelters, ate scraps from dumpsters, and waited for the rap of a police officer’s nightstick on the soles of my feet and the barked order to “move along.” That was nearly 40 years ago.

I, too, seek the “kinder scene” that Jessica Bruder asks us to envision. But after all these years, I don’t hold out much hope.

Brian Kates
Pomona, N.Y.

To the Editor:

My parents were both teachers who would take their four young boys on long trips in a station wagon across much of the Western United States. When we were between state and national parks, they would drive into small towns along the way, stop at the local police station and ask where it was OK to park for the night. Often, we had a friendly police escort to a safe place to spend the night. I never remember their being turned down.

This was another time (1960s), and a family with young children might get a different response than a single person or couple, but in some towns it might still be a viable option.

Damon Anderson
Carmel, Calif.

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