Vancouver's Hoboes, by Andrew Roddan

Subway Books, 98 pp, $16.95, softcover.

Rev. Andrew Roddan came to Vancouver in December 1929 to take charge of the First United Church at Hastings and Gore. The Depression was just beginning; by 1931, when First United published his God in the Jungles, Vancouver was home to thousands of homeless men living in several squatter camps (or "jungles") by False Creek, the Georgia Viaduct, Burrard Inlet, and Stanley Park, among others. Roddan, a strong proponent of "the social Gospel", spent much of his time working for and with these homeless men, feeding and ministering at a time when many-including government agencies that removed 2,500 from relief rolls in 1931-were quick to write them off. And he wrote of their plight with uncommon understanding, compassion, and insight.

This year's republication of Roddan's book, under the title Vancouver's Hoboes and with an illuminating introduction by Dalhousie history professor Todd McCallum, is not a resurrection of some fusty historical document but a timely-or timeless-window on poverty and homelessness, with continuing relevance to public policy and attitudes. McCallum draws some of these links between Depression-era attitudes and those expressed today, such as MLA Lorne Mayencourt speaking last year of his community suffering "awful, awful atrocities" at the hands of street people. McCallum also reveals how Roddan incorporated material from other writers, such as sociologist Nels Anderson and self-proclaimed "King of the Hoboes" (and lover of Emma Goldman) Ben Reitman. This context illuminates without diminishing Roddan's work to educate the public and cajole Christians into acts of charity as the only true expression of the Gospel, pointing out that "Jesus himself was on the side of the outcast and the underprivileged members of society." And although Roddan may not have been the first to discuss hobo slang, behaviour, types, and lifestyles, it is no less interesting to learn how the term might have originated as a Civil War contraction of soldiers who were "homeward bound".

From this book, his regular services, and a popular radio show he had during the 1930s, Roddan continued to preach for an understanding of the plight of the homeless that was both spiritual and material, critiquing the heartlessness of capitalism and, at the same time, the hypocrisies of the church. It is these aspects of the book that remain most relevant today, for, as he put it, "Religion without compassion is the coldest thing under Heaven. In the name of religion men have done some hellish things in this world, as history clearly reveals."