Jarrod Goss Compiles Anthology of Works by Homeless Peoples

“Crossing Boundaries in U.S. Literature and Culture” wasn’t meant to serve as a traditional class. Co-taught by Dr. Cathy Romagnolo and Dr. Robert Machado of the English Department, this yearlong undergraduate research symposium focuses on literature and critical theories that challenges society norms and incorporates external learning. For the research/community service project component of the class, Jarrod Goss ’16 compiled an anthology of written work and art in conjunction with the local homeless population to increase awareness of their condition. 

Goss, an English and philosophy dual major, titled his project “Standing Stone.” He aims to work beyond merely making homelessness a topic of course study. “To call my project an ‘anthology’ is a disservice because it sounds as if I’m novelizing homelessness and homeless peoples, which is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do. However, for lack of a better term, I am anthologizing the works of the homeless in order to show the capacity for self-expression a person has even in such dire straits as homelessness and poverty,” said Goss. 

The idea that “homeless people are people too” is not a new one, Goss explained, but the common line of thought in American society is to “other” homeless people and perceive them as failures in a larger picture. “Homelessness intersects with all kinds of social ills and the personhood of someone gets lost under all that baggage,” said Goss.

There is also a more philosophical end to Goss’ project. “I propose an alternative view to the way in which we look at homelessness, namely that they are people who have been jilted by a capitalist world. Rather than view homelessness as a ‘problem’ or an ‘ugly aesthetic,’ we make institutional changes that ensure that homelessness cannot happen,” he said. 

In a capitalist society driven by how much money we make and how many things we can afford, it is easy to see how we frame homelessness—Goss’ project aims to shift that perception and ask the challenging questions regarding the type of mentality that has led to such stigma and shame. 

The inspiration for his project comes from several years of wandering himself—Goss has experienced firsthand, to some degree, the familiarity of drifting from place to place without a solid anchor behind him. “There is always a separation, something missing, that you can’t fill regardless of how hard you want it or how many pills people say you need to take. And it’s maddening that others, well-intentioned as they are, believe they can solve an issue that they are not really acquainted with.” This kind of loss and even trauma that comes from such a period in one’s life is unimaginable to those who have never experienced it themselves, which is exactly what Goss intends to bring to light.

His process involved networking with homeless shelters and organizations in Lebanon and central Pennsylvania as a whole, including the Lebanon Rescue Mission and Cornerstone Community Church. Goss said the biggest challenge so far has been finding participants who do not consider the project gimmicky or even glamorizing homelessness. However, it is very important, in order to present the work with the respect that it deserves, to receive consent from potential partners. Art as a means of self-expression can be an immensely personal thing, and especially with a topic such as this. Goss continues to meet with people to compile additional work for the collection. 

This is not an easy topic to discuss or work on, but Goss aims to introduce the opportunity for discussion beyond the classroom. “I want there to be dialogue and confidence in one’s own voice. I want to capture the moments that seem the most real to us, even when what one knows as real is possibly gone,” he said. 

The ability to write and create can give a sense of stability even in darker times, and appeals to the very core of our deepest human nature. It is something universal, and can challenge the very barriers that society props us and keep us apart. 

“Why allow a human being to suffer and, potentially, die in the streets when we could do so much more to prevent this?”

Goss’ work asks this question and more, bringing attention to a serious issue through art and opening new opportunities for discussion and later improvement.