REVIEW: A PLACE CALLED HOME by David Ambroz
To read A Place Called Home, the memoir of child welfare advocate David Ambroz, is to see a side of life that is alarmingly hidden in plain sight. Opening with the Christmas season, Ambroz describes a scenario not of joy but of survival: the real possibility that he and his siblings, aged 5, 6, and 7, might freeze to death. This is but one chapter in a book that should be considered required reading for all.
Millions of homeless children currently live in the United States, and statistics on food scarcity and the foster care system are readily available. These numbers often occupy a place in our minds that is separate from the realities of the homeless community. Ambroz’s narrative removes this barrier and gives the reader an unflinching eye that exposes circumstances commonplace to those who live far below the poverty line. Recounting his childhood in exacting and excruciating detail, Ambroz shares the truth of growing up in unpredictable conditions and the crushing weight of daily life in a society that “doesn’t trust people in poverty.”
Throughout A Place Called Home, Ambroz details the tenuous existence of living in an unstable environment with a mother suffering from severe and untreated mental illness. Memorable passages describe the forced maturation among the siblings in response to assuming the role of caregiver, and the constant maneuvering necessary to avoid triggering their mother’s violent outbursts. Scenes that describe her paranoid delusions offer an acute glimpse of the vulnerability of children living on society’s fringes, where the systems in place tend to fail those they are designed to protect.
As the siblings grow, an unfortunate pattern presents itself. “Over and over again, the three of us were left with a woman that was clearly hurting us by people in positions of authority.” As their mother’s delusions escalated, the family was forced to move repeatedly. In a statement of particular weight, Ambroz discloses the heartbreaking hallmarks of his childhood. “Homelessness, hunger, housing, welfare, and homelessness again.”
Personal story underlines systemic problems
The continual failures of America’s welfare and foster systems are under harsh interrogation in A Place Called Home and with good reason. Ambroz’s upbringing took place in the gaps of these systems and the general apathy of a country where “children in poverty are given kernels of assistance but are rarely rescued from their circumstances.” He uses his experience to pose critical questions of societal responsibility and highlight the innate and widespread hypocrisy attached to our current solutions. While his words have palpable anger, it is fueled by a childhood he wishes to spare future generations and a desire to create tangible, lasting solutions. Ambroz’s voice acts almost as a call to arms, often expressing what should be obvious. “Thank you for the Christmas presents collected at your office, but I’d rather you vote for people and policies so children don’t suffer from neglect, abuse, hunger, homelessness, violence, and maybe death.”
Within the harrowing account of Ambroz’s childhood are clarifying moments of unwavering hope. For those familiar with Ambroz and his advocacy work, this memoir offers a deeper understanding of what inspired him to commit himself to improving the lives of children lost in a strained system.
Recognized by President Obama as an American Champion of Change, Ambroz has worked extensively with the National Foster Youth Advisory Council and other organizations. After a childhood of neglect, Ambroz refuses to forget his past circumstances and works tirelessly to solve the root issues that perpetuate an America that “watches its children suffer in poverty…thinking it is someone else’s job to help those poor folks.”
A Place Called Home serves as a declaration on behalf of children who slip through the cracks and experience conditions they have no control over. Ambroz’s words are an incredibly effective rallying call for those looking to play a role in a new America where a critical focus is placed on support systems for its children.