The following exclusive interview with Sherrie Kleinholz, author and advocate for the homeless, appears on the eve of the publication of her first book, The World Without Me. The book is an anthology of stories by homeless individuals in Greater Cincinnati, compiled and edited by Ms. Kleinholz over a number of years.
Interview by Jordan Bailey
RED! – What sparked your interest to begin researching such a major crisis in society today
such as homelessness?
S.K. – My interest in those who are without has been growing within me since my teenage years
and has peaked greatly in my adult years. I look around and I see so many beautiful
people who are disconsolate and suffering deeply with no one to help guide them
through it. I watch as there is no one sharing love with them and I am heartbroken.
RED! – Have you done any volunteer work – for instance, in shelters or in a food pantry – in
terms of assisting the homeless? What were any of those experiences like and what are
some things you have learned being around them?
S.K. – I have worked at a homeless shelter doing counseling as part of my internship and this
has been very rewarding. It gave me a great sense of being a part of something so much
greater and my heart would be filled with a little more respect, humility, and love for
those I interacted with each time I left. I also enjoy making lunches to pass out to those
on the streets or take to the soup kitchen and have developed meaningful relationships
with these I interact with.
RED! – Tell us a little about your book and how it came about.
S.K. – The World Without Me is a compilation of stories told by those who live them
every day. Stories about what it is like to be on the streets without your basic
needs readily available such as food, shelter, clean clothes, medical care, and
love. A great deal of the stories are written in dialogue form. This is done so that
the reader can get a better understanding of what the person being interviewed is
feeling, thinking and seeing from their perspective. The book came about because
it has been a part of my life for many years and to watch as others spit at,
degrade, and ridicule those who have to live it deeply saddens me. It saddens me
for the person on the street, as well as the person who is ridiculing and the world
as a whole.
RED! – You and RED! technical assistant, William Lambers, also a legendary advocate of
global food assistance, have worked together recently on issues of homelessness and
food advocacy. How successful have you been?
S.K. – I cannot say enough about William Lambers. What a kind hearted, giving, intelligent,
talented, and genuine man he is! My work with William began in my undergrad years at
Mount St. Joe when we held a fund raiser for international charities on hunger to which
was a success. He has also shown me how to help feed those who are hungry by playing
a game for free that donates rice for international hunger. We have also done an honorary
food drive in his mom’s name which helped three local pantries, and he has been a
profound help in the writing of this book. I’d be lost without him! I am quite certain that
we will be working together for a long time to come.
RED! – What kind of impact would you like your book to make?
S.K. – It is with my deepest hope that the stories inside this book grab the reader’s heart to help
them realize that the person behind the story is just like the person who is reading it.
They have feelings that hurt, thoughts that are important, needs to be met, & wants that
are forgotten. I hope that the reader can see that more often than not the person behind
the story had it all once and lost it because of reasons that could happen to anyone
including the person reading the book. These reasons consisting things such as physical
illness, death of a loved one, tragedy and mental illness. I want the reader to close the
book with tears in their eyes and love in their heart and realize that not every person on
the streets is trying to scam them and if they are trying to scam them to ask “why?” I
hope that the reader sees that person on the street are just people who are not lucky
enough to have the social support or means that others who are not on the streets have
had. If a person believes that it could not happen to them then they need to open their
eyes and see life for what it is. It can happen to anyone at any given moment and it can
RED! – What are some things you believe the city of Cincinnati, or the region on the whole, can
do to better address homelessness, especially as indicators suggest it is on the rise in
this particular U.S. economy?
S.K. – Sometimes when we look at a problem we feel alone and overwhelmed and we cut
ourselves off emotionally in order to protect our overall wellbeing. More often than not
we just don’t understand something and we fear what we do not understand. Therefore,
I encourage each person to educate themselves in understanding homelessness for what
Many times we create comforting self-soothing stories about those who are homeless
such as “they’re just lazy, a drug addict, and/or worthless criminals. I believe we do this
because we have to fill the void of “not knowing”. We simply cannot see a person who
is in need and drive by them because we would feel bad so we put a spin on our thinking
to justify driving by. Does this mean that the person on the street is not plagued by
mental illness, addiction, the loss of desire to help themselves, or is not a criminal?
Absolutely not! However, keep in mind that inside each of us is our own personal evil
wolf lying in wait that could break free when pushed to our own thresholds. So maybe
ask yourself, “If this person really is one of those things then why and how did it come to
this and how can I help stop it or prevent it?” Remind yourself that you to could lose your
job have someone you love die and take your spirit with you, get a debilitating mental
illness, or lose your health and can’t work. You too could be pushed to your threshold
and wake up with nothing.
Therefore, to best address homelessness educate yourself to get a better understanding
of it, know it could happen to you, realize how powerful you are in the fight against it, and
advocate! As individuals we often do not understand how powerful we are. One person
can reach many people but they underestimate their own power and think to themselves,
“What I have to offer and contribute is not really making a difference.” That thought is
incorrect. Trust me; you are powerful in the lives of others. Inside each of us is a hero.