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Catching Homelessness: A Nurse's Story of Falling Through the Safety Net

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  149 ratings  ·  23 reviews
At the beginning of the homelessness epidemic in the 1980s, Josephine Ensign was a young, white, Southern, Christian wife, mother, and nurse running a new medical clinic for the homeless in the heart of the South. Through her work and intense relationships with patients and co-workers, her worldview was shattered, and after losing her job, family, and house, she became ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 9th 2016 by She Writes Press
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Oct 23, 2016 rated it liked it
This is 2.5 stars for me, but I’m giving it three starts because of the first 150 pages of the book. However, I think the title is misleading, because this is much, much more about the true story of Ms. Ensign’s experience working in a clinic that served low income and homeless individuals in the mid-late 80s. That story is interesting, well-written and raises some great questions, but it is not the story that I think the blurb and the title suggest. Some spoilers below.

The first 150 pages or so
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Great effort on the overarching policy and other people's story but didn't really delve enough into the titular "nurse's story" to appease me. I felt that there could have been more introspection or depth.
It is hard to review this book as it is a very personal story in many ways. That I don't feel I can comment on. But the work she did with homeless people, her humanity, her honesty, her struggles in working with this difficult population, well I had nothing but admiration for her. I was sorry that her struggles with her religion and her marriage caused her the problems that they did. She still works in public health and has many years of working with the homeless to her credit. Too bad that ...more
Jul 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
There were a few standout sections, like a brief one in which Ensign gives a cursory description of the political movements around homelessness on both sides and another in which she describes trying to keep her composure while treating a festering wound. It was a semi-interesting read, but overall I found it lacking on two fronts. 1) Ensign's writing did not seem introspective enough about her own experiences and choices. I was left with many unanswered questions regarding her family life, the ...more
Martina Clark
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I found this book both interesting and educational. I learned a tremendous amount and was moved by the author's story which illustrated just how quickly one's life can unravel. Highly recommend!
Katie Tastad
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting read, but not what I expected. The author spends the bulk of the book detailing a free clinic in the late 1980's. Her decline into "precarious housing" is brief, and so is the description of how she pulled herself out of it. I would have liked to learn more about these experiences, as well as how her views on homelessness and healthcare for homeless evolved.
Rachel B
Dec 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoir-etc, poverty
1.5 stars

I was very disappointed with this one. Firstly, the publisher's description claims this book is about a nurse who "falls through the safety net," becoming homeless after she "loses her job, family..." Right from the get-go, this is just false information. Ensign doesn't "lose" her job, she quits. She doesn't "lose" her family, she leaves them. And to be quite frank, she barely even becomes "homeless." She really only qualifies for that description if homeless is equivalent with house
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The beginning of this book is very good. I volunteer at a center for homeless and so I appreciated the insights. The parts about the culture of Richmond at that time were interesting as well. As a committed Christian in a large northern city, I wondered if the stereotypes of Christianity in the South were true. Sounds like they were, at least for this person at that time. Too bad, my church manages doubt in a completely different manner. I just have to ask, "Where was God in all this?" He was ...more
D. Whittaker
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Not sure what I was expecting - a road-map to homelessness? This is an interesting memoir, but fell short of my expectation - how does one become homeless. While several of the vignettes are insightful, I was expecting more. My major take-away is we are not making progress. Much of what she describes in 1980s Richmond, VA is still the case in 2018 Salt Lake. Her focus is medical care, I would've like more insight into housing and employment. If at all interested in homelessness, you won't be ...more
Anne Bourne
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting perspective

Drawn in from the very beginning. Through her eyes we get a vivid picture of homelessness. I loved reading about Richmond and how different a place and time can be from now. Somethings never change and some change completely. Thank you for sharing your personal journey.
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this quickly - it was very easy to read and engaging enough. However I am on the fence about how it sits with me. It seems to be as hard to figure out my feelings about this book as it is to work out the situation of homelessness in our country.
Garry Cooke
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The stories she told about her struggles with not only helping those without homes and her own struggles were quite touching.
Laurie Barkin
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author's experience is an eye-opener for dealing with patients in the same situation. Bravo.
Jennifer D. Munro
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stunning book. Compelling exploration of homelessness, the South, patriarchy, nurse practitioners, and one woman's journey to discover her true self (that sounds like an "overdone theme" we see too often, but I can't think of a stronger example of a woman giving up everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, to become an independent person [while still helping others!]; most of us would not have had the courage or fortitude). I stand in awe.
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
Josephine Ensign was an early graduate of a Nurse Practionier program in Virginia, the heart of the Bible Belt states. She came from a religious family and felt called to be one of the "shining points of light" of that generation. She started a clinic from the ground up and for three years it grew. She was eventually squeezed out by the fundamentalist organization she worked for and the powers in the state that did not allow women to have the kind of power she had taken in setting up and running ...more
The homelessness epidemic in the United States evokes many different reactions from people. What did they do to end up homeless? Why don't they just get a job? How can I help? Should I help? Could this ever happen to me?
The answers to those questions are as varied as there are people to ask them. But one thing is clear, the number of homeless in our country is increasing. And we need to think more critically about how we, as individuals and as a society, respond to it.

In Catching Homelessness,
Margaret Adams
Although the blurb and tagline for Ensign's "Catching Homelessness" highlight her own personal experience of "falling through the safety net," I found her descriptions of working as a new nurse practitioner and the sole provider at the newly opened Street Center in Richmond in 1986 much more compelling. I heavily dog-eared my copy during the first two thirds of the book--it felt like every other page held an articulation about community health (and being a nurse practitioner) that really ...more
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I won this book in a Giveaway and was so excited when it came in the mail. I started it right away and was instantly taken back to my own childhood growing up in Virginia. Some of the places in the book were so spot on I got chills.
I have been gone from there since I was a teenager so I had no idea how prominent the homeless population had become. I really felt for the author and understood her desire to help and heal. Being in the medical profession myself we sometimes think we are 'beyond'
Oct 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
I won this book as part of a giveaway from goodreads. At first I felt it was hard to get into, but I kept reading. I would put it down then go back to it again in a few days. I am so glad glad I kept trying to read this book. Once I got going, I couldn't put it down. I felt it was a touching story that o many could relate to. It really shows that bad things in life can happen to anyone . But how we handle things throw our way can help in overcoming lifes stumbling blocks. I recommend this book ...more
Aug 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: giveaway, non-fiction
I was the winner of a free issue giveaway sponsored by the author. Having worked in community mental health for almost forty years, I was intrigued by the book's premise. When discussing her patients, politics and the issues of homelessness the book rang true. However, when it came to her personal narrative, I wasn't sure what to think. To say she fell through the safety net seemed a bit disingenuous considering the choices she made. Yes, her struggles were real and I'm pleased she was able to ...more
Dec 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, e-book
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
appreciate the author's personal reflection and journey to her authentic self
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Mar 24, 2018
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Feb 04, 2017
Kaelin Crews
rated it it was amazing
Aug 30, 2018
Kalila Zunes-Wolfe
rated it it was amazing
Oct 19, 2019
Gillian Graham
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Aug 07, 2017
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Oct 14, 2018
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Aug 27, 2016
Robyn Argyle
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Aug 08, 2019
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Josephine Ensign is a professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, where she teaches community health, health policy, and narrative medicine. A graduate of Oberlin College, the Medical College of Virginia, and Johns Hopkins University, she has been a nurse for over thirty years, providing health care for homeless and marginalized populations. She is an alumna of Hedgebrook and the Community ...more
“I remember my life's timeline by the books I read, their covers, the way they looked on my bookshelves, the way they smelled, what they spoke to me about.” 2 likes
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