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All God's Children

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James Daniel Nelson first hit the streets as a teenager in 1992. He joined a clutch of runaways and misfits who camped out together in a squat under a Portland bridge. Within a few months the group—they called themselves a "family"—was arrested for a string of violent murders. While Nelson sat in prison, the society he had helped form grew into a national phenomenon. Stree James Daniel Nelson first hit the streets as a teenager in 1992. He joined a clutch of runaways and misfits who camped out together in a squat under a Portland bridge. Within a few months the group—they called themselves a "family"—was arrested for a string of violent murders. While Nelson sat in prison, the society he had helped form grew into a national phenomenon. Street families spread to every city from New York to San Francisco, and to many small towns in between, bringing violence with them. In 2003, almost eleven years after his original murder, Nelson, now called "Thantos", got out of prison, returned to Portland, created a new street family, and killed once more. Twelve family members were arrested along with him. Rene Denfeld spent over a decade following the evolution of street family culture. She discovered that, contrary to popular belief, the majority of these teenagers hail from loving middle-class homes. Yet they have left those homes to form insular communities with cultish hierarchies, codes of behavior, languages, quasireligions, and harsh rules. She reveals the extremes to which desperate teenagers will go in their search for a sense of community, and builds a persuasive and troubling case that street families have grown among us into a dark reversal of the American ideal.


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James Daniel Nelson first hit the streets as a teenager in 1992. He joined a clutch of runaways and misfits who camped out together in a squat under a Portland bridge. Within a few months the group—they called themselves a "family"—was arrested for a string of violent murders. While Nelson sat in prison, the society he had helped form grew into a national phenomenon. Stree James Daniel Nelson first hit the streets as a teenager in 1992. He joined a clutch of runaways and misfits who camped out together in a squat under a Portland bridge. Within a few months the group—they called themselves a "family"—was arrested for a string of violent murders. While Nelson sat in prison, the society he had helped form grew into a national phenomenon. Street families spread to every city from New York to San Francisco, and to many small towns in between, bringing violence with them. In 2003, almost eleven years after his original murder, Nelson, now called "Thantos", got out of prison, returned to Portland, created a new street family, and killed once more. Twelve family members were arrested along with him. Rene Denfeld spent over a decade following the evolution of street family culture. She discovered that, contrary to popular belief, the majority of these teenagers hail from loving middle-class homes. Yet they have left those homes to form insular communities with cultish hierarchies, codes of behavior, languages, quasireligions, and harsh rules. She reveals the extremes to which desperate teenagers will go in their search for a sense of community, and builds a persuasive and troubling case that street families have grown among us into a dark reversal of the American ideal.

30 review for All God's Children

  1. 5 out of 5

    Heather Stowell

    What I was struck by in All God’s Children, was the revelatory documentation by Denfeld on a new trend in alienated youth about the degree with which they deliberately dissociate and choose homelessness. I can somewhat relate to this from my own early teen homelessness experiences and I can certainly understand what could cause such a type of alienation. But back then when I was a homeless youth, even though there were not nearly as many resources available, as there was in the 1990’s. I rememb What I was struck by in All God’s Children, was the revelatory documentation by Denfeld on a new trend in alienated youth about the degree with which they deliberately dissociate and choose homelessness. I can somewhat relate to this from my own early teen homelessness experiences and I can certainly understand what could cause such a type of alienation. But back then when I was a homeless youth, even though there were not nearly as many resources available, as there was in the 1990’s. I remember feelings of desperation and alienation in my need to find a place where I could safely belong. Denfeld offers readers fascinating insight into this relatively unheard, under-reported phenomenon; a self-chosen homeless youth lifestyle on the streets that integrates into social units called, ‘families.’ These are not mobster lead, ‘families,’ and not street gangs, rather these ‘families’ function as advice giving centers that help the young homeless better gain access to street outreach services, where they can find daily amenities, and they learn how to earn money through panhandling and crime, that is in Denfeld’s words, that “are not crimes of passion. These social units are, for the most part, organized, elaborate, and brutally sadistic.” - All God's Children. These Families also have “Laws,” which are both arbitrary and ungrounded, where once one is adopted into a family, there are harsh punishments meted out on the supposed guilty. One thing that stood out for me was the fact that many of the members of the one family focused on by Denfeld, the ‘Thantos Family,’ had levels of previous criminality, mental damage, dysfunction and or learning disability. Not that one should ever totally excuse anyone’s aberrant and aggressive behaviour, but it seems to me now after having also read, The Anatomy of Violence, that there are biological markers for a predisposition towards violence and that these measures need to be taken into more consideration than simply relying on a popular theory of a forensic psychiatrist. This psychiatrist, "Dr. Keith Ablow, who Denfeld relies on throughout her book writes in the New York Times, that an increasing number of teenagers are displaying “a profound detachment from self.” With scripted speech, hollow behavior, and a lack of ethics, these teenagers act “like actors playing themselves.” Dr. Ablow believes such teenagers are suffering from an identity disorder with roots in a “society that has drifted free from reality,” and who are influenced most recently by reality television and online gaming." - All God's Children I disagree with Ablow. There has always been a segment of the most vulnerable population who have been homeless. Vulnerability is more from early interactions with ‘real,’ people and real consequences such as brain dysfunction and things like attachment disorder rather than late-onset teen symptoms of contemporary alienated detachment. It seems that Ablow looks to name a new condition rather than look at causes. Stats found in the most recent study of 2002 estimated that there were an approximated 1.5 million American street kids. That's a huge number! These youth are not unlike Fagin’s children from Oliver Twist. Fagin was a kidsman; an adult who recruited children and trained them as pickpockets, exchanging food and shelter for goods the children stole. They survived in an underground economy, whereas modern homeless youth survive on an above-board and underground economy. Although Denfeld presented questionable theory, her reliable numbers and biographical casebook re-accounting in a descriptive journalistic format were well-delivered. It was just not her choice to examine and compare theories of 'Youth homelessness and criminality." Although she did touch on the future of prospective homeless youth emerging into adulthood. Yet, longitudinal studies are hard to conduct on the transient and particularly on those who transition from youth to adulthood. But some have been done: One area not covered in this report* was the links between these outcomes, homelessness and crime. While a thorough discussion of this literature base is beyond the scope of this report, research shows the presence of between various links. * Mental Health, Delinquency and Incarceration For example: • In British Columbia, 68% of youth in custody reported that they had run away from or were forced to leave their homes in the year prior to custody; 46% reported being homeless in the past year. • A literature review noted that more than half of people charged with misdemeanors were homeless or living in unstable housing before their arrest. Consistent with this, research shows that Canada’s federal inmates reported higher rates of unstable housing than the general population. • In the U.S., a study of inmates in San Francisco found that 16% of all episodes of incarceration involved someone who was homeless; inmates had a mental disorder diagnosis in 18% of these episodes. Homeless inmates were more likely than non-homeless inmates to be diagnosed with a mental disorder and a co-occurring/co-morbid mental disorder and substance-related disorder; the latter were also more likely to have multiple episodes of incarceration than those without a co-occurring disorder. In terms of discharge planning, a recent report noted “. . . there is a bi-directional relationship between homelessness and incarceration.” (p. 87) Homeless men are more vulnerable to involvement in the justice system due to poverty, substance use, economic survival strategies and greater surveillance by law enforcement; in turn, “. . . the prison experience itself may place releasees at risk of becoming homeless.” www.cmha.ca/download.php?docid=44 AND ONE MORE STUDY: - It is beyond the scope of this research to map precise paths between adverse childhood events and chronic adult homelessness. The strong connection between the two confirmed in this study, however, suggests that when we separate the outcomes of adverse childhood events from those events themselves, we fail both youth who experienced homelessness as a result of these events and the chronically homeless adults they may become. - The importance of adverse childhood events in chronic adult homelessness provides a cautionary tale for our response to youth who experience homelessness. - Our response to trauma needs to be embedded in a perspective that contextualizes homelessness with deeper meanings of home, and with the life story and the social processes that tie together teen homelessness and chronic adult homelessness. http://www1.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocia... Even though I was prepared for the content by Denfeld’s disclaimers in her prelude, warning of graphic content and explaining her attempt at avoidance of sensationalizing crime, I still had to cocoon myself by skipping horrific accounts of violence. I think she may have duplicated her descriptions of violence in order to emphasize their gravity, but I was like 'gosh didn't I already have to detour around this once?' Still, this is very much a worthwhile and important read, in order to get a sense of contemporary phenomena that may have an ongoing, upward trend and one that is not brought to our attention nearly enough. If you are sensitive like me, you may also need to somehow buffer the effects of the graphic content. 4

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    OK as sort of expected this book was pretty offensive and totally frustrating - so much so I think I read the whole thing in less than 72 hours. I'm not sure where to start - do I start by saying the author thinks most homeless youth are prone to meth use and killing? Do I start by telling you she thinks places that give out free meals make it "easy to be homeless"? Do I start by telling you that even though I myself don't know very much about being homeless in downtown Portland that I know enou OK as sort of expected this book was pretty offensive and totally frustrating - so much so I think I read the whole thing in less than 72 hours. I'm not sure where to start - do I start by saying the author thinks most homeless youth are prone to meth use and killing? Do I start by telling you she thinks places that give out free meals make it "easy to be homeless"? Do I start by telling you that even though I myself don't know very much about being homeless in downtown Portland that I know enough about being a punk kid (who she somehow fails to see as totally different?!) to know that some of her facts are total B.S.? Or do I tell you that she thinks places like Outside In and the Streetlight Shelter are total crap and do nothing but enable street kids and are part of this problem of violence amongst street kids? Or do I tell you she makes downtown Portland after dark seem so terrible violent I almost started to wonder if she lived in the same city as me, and maybe she had us mistaken for a place like Baltimore? Or what about that most street kids lie and really come from happy suburban families? Abuse? she never really mentions it unless saying some kid has made it up. WHAT the F is all I have to say after reading this book. what the f? Maybe the worst part of this book is that it made The Oregonian Newspaper's list for top books of 2007 and so I'm sure tons of people are reading it right now and feeling justified in their stereotypes of any punk looking kid seen downtown. And I'm sure this book has poured 8-tons of gasoline of the fire of the Downtown Business Alliance and it's efforts to get rid of any person asking for spare change in the downtown area. If anyone know of responses to this book from agencies like Outside In or Janus Youth I would love to read them, because they come under heavy attack in this book. For those of you who don't live in Portland, or didn't during this time period, be wary of this book. For those of you who don't access the agencies she attacks be very wary. well in general everyone should be wary of this book - and I'd be glad to give more evidence against this book and point to specific pages where she has concrete facts totally wrong.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Griffin

    In 2003, Jessica Kate Williams was murdered in one of the most horrific ways imaginable. James Daniel Nelson was ultimately responsible for this and another murder in 1992. But he didn’t hold the weapons that killed Jessica; he had his “family” do it for him. How did he have such control over a dozen other street kids? ALL GOD’S CHILDREN: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families, written by Rene Denfeld, explains how. James, or “Thantos” as he liked to be called, was the “father” of In 2003, Jessica Kate Williams was murdered in one of the most horrific ways imaginable. James Daniel Nelson was ultimately responsible for this and another murder in 1992. But he didn’t hold the weapons that killed Jessica; he had his “family” do it for him. How did he have such control over a dozen other street kids? ALL GOD’S CHILDREN: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families, written by Rene Denfeld, explains how. James, or “Thantos” as he liked to be called, was the “father” of a street family in Portland, Oregon. In the 1990s Portland was very tolerant of street kids. They flocked to Pioneer Square, panhandled, fought among themselves, and sometimes mugged strangers. A lot of their crimes went unreported by the media. By 2003 there were several established street families that usually included a father or mother figure who made the “kids” panhandle all day and turn the money over to them. A street family might give a teenager the feeling of belonging, but if they dared break a street rule they could end up dead. ALL GOD’S CHILDREN is about how teenagers end up in these gangs, blindly following the sometimes deadly instructions of someone who is absolutely no relation to them. James Nelson’s mission was to live on the streets permanently. As long as he had people to panhandle and run errands for him he could do this. Denfeld shows us that these kids are duped into thinking they are safe in a street family, when the truth is that even a made-up transgression can get them killed. The descriptions of torture and murder in this book, as given by witnesses, are matter-of-fact but VERY disturbing. I chose to skip reading most of the killing of Jessica Williams because it bothered me so much to know that there are such cruel and disturbed people out there on the streets. I live in Portland and walk through the groups of kids around Pioneer Square. I’ve always had the feeling of “there’s room enough for all of us”. I think Denfeld’s intention was to wake us up to the reality of what’s going on in these families. I was very interested in the subject as I had a relative that was among the street people at one time. Denfeld spent 10 years observing these people and her descriptions of them are multi-dimensional. I really came to care about Jessica Williams and am heartbroken to read how she died. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever wondered, “Why are those kids just hanging out there?”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sassafras Lowrey

    If i could give this book less than 1 star I would. It was written by someone who clearly has zero understanding of homeless youth, and is oddly obsessed with creating this portrayal of homeless youth that seems like a bad occult movie/after school special. The author also repeatedly and oddly villainized service providers for following best practices (using youth's names, not releasing records or information to police or abusive parents) and glorifying the parents these youth (many of whom were If i could give this book less than 1 star I would. It was written by someone who clearly has zero understanding of homeless youth, and is oddly obsessed with creating this portrayal of homeless youth that seems like a bad occult movie/after school special. The author also repeatedly and oddly villainized service providers for following best practices (using youth's names, not releasing records or information to police or abusive parents) and glorifying the parents these youth (many of whom were legal adults) had run away from. The author most disturbingly picked a VERY small sample of violent homeless youth to feature in her book while claiming them as an example of all homeless youth when really their are literally millions of homeless youth on the streets of this country every year. Most create street/chosen families for the same reasons anyone else builds family - for love, connection etc. I was a homeless youth in portland at the time this book is set - her portrayal of homeless youth culture is totally sensationalized and completely absent is any understanding of the high rates of homelessness amongst lgbtq youth 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ (this author rather was focused on a few homophobic youth). really disappointed in this book

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This look at the culture of street kid "families" focuses on the brutality of a few and ignores the vast majority of homeless youth that never commit murder. The writer insists that the youth agencies that provide food, shelter, and programs for these kids enable them to continue to live on the streets and "playact" when they could go home to loving middleclass families. She fails to address the many complicated causes of teen homelessness (abuse, addiction, poverty, education, mental illness, s This look at the culture of street kid "families" focuses on the brutality of a few and ignores the vast majority of homeless youth that never commit murder. The writer insists that the youth agencies that provide food, shelter, and programs for these kids enable them to continue to live on the streets and "playact" when they could go home to loving middleclass families. She fails to address the many complicated causes of teen homelessness (abuse, addiction, poverty, education, mental illness, sexuality, family instability, etc.) and instead chooses to spend most of the book describing picture perfect suburban families that want their runaway children to come home. In short, this book angered me. Okay, but at the same time, I was drawn in to the violent tale of the Thantos family murders like a rubber necker at the scene of a car crash. The author's sensationalism of such brutality and her provocative statements about social service agencies and homeless youth accomplish her true goal: to sell books.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Damien

    I don't like the way this writer handled the material concerning this true story. Sensationalist is the best I can say about her attitude, and my friend called it "propaganda" which is much more accurate all around. Her treatment of "street culture" is inaccurate and exaggerated. Pulp non-fiction; unrecyclable trash basically. I don't like the way this writer handled the material concerning this true story. Sensationalist is the best I can say about her attitude, and my friend called it "propaganda" which is much more accurate all around. Her treatment of "street culture" is inaccurate and exaggerated. Pulp non-fiction; unrecyclable trash basically.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    The more I think about this book, the more irritated I am by it. I do believe that Denfeld has brought attention to a legitimate problem, that of "street families" -- that is, small ganglike groups of young street people, often lead by charismatic individuals -- that contribute to crime and commit acts of violence. Denfeld focuses strongly on several vicious murders perpetrated by a man named James Daniel Nelson with the assistance of other street "kids" (most of the "kids" mentioned were in the The more I think about this book, the more irritated I am by it. I do believe that Denfeld has brought attention to a legitimate problem, that of "street families" -- that is, small ganglike groups of young street people, often lead by charismatic individuals -- that contribute to crime and commit acts of violence. Denfeld focuses strongly on several vicious murders perpetrated by a man named James Daniel Nelson with the assistance of other street "kids" (most of the "kids" mentioned were in their late teens or twenties). But despite her protestations to the contrary in the introduction, Denfeld's book is a sensationalistic "true crime" book, not a work that promotes thoughtful discussion. Denfeld blames just about everything you can think of for the existence of these street families and the crimes they commit: Dungeons & Dragons, Wicca (and neo-paganism in general), Food Not Bombs, anarchists, public spaces like parks and squares, and shelters that offer health care, housing and food to teenagers without asking too many questions, to name just a few. I was particularly bothered by Denfeld's repeated bashing of the shelters and the people who run them; I know several people who work with street youth, and it's pretty much the hardest job imaginable. Denfeld mocks specific shelters for offering massage therapy and acupuncture free of charge -- neglecting to mention that these services are offered specifically because a) they are supplied by volunteers, and b) they don't carry the costs or dangers of distributing prescription medications, some of which have street value. She actually seems to miss the days when being a homeless adolescent almost certainly meant resorting to prostitution to survive. I should also note that her descriptions of Pioneer Courthouse Square really had me scratching my head, since she makes it sound like it's some kind of lawless danger zone, rather than a public square where you're just as likely to see a businessman eating his lunch as you are some crusties cadging for change. Finally, while Denfeld repeatedly insists that most of the youth on the street come from normal middle-class families and would be leading normal productive lives if they hadn't been drawn into this enticing street culture, nearly all of the main players described had problems at home, struck me as having serious mental health issues, or both. Just because a kid has had financial advantages does not mean he or she has no reason to be on the street. To conclude, I have no doubt that the crimes described in the book deserve attention. Neither do I doubt that anyone would seriously argue that there are faults in the support systems for homeless youth in Portland and other cities in the U.S. But Denfeld is doing little to contribute to the solution, and in the process is gravely misinforming many readers, not to mention potentially harming individuals she purports to want to help.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    I am really loving this author. There is a clear and professional element in her research and detail in her work. This book really opened my eyes to two things (well a million things) but the two in particular were: the organization of street youth into street families contributed to an increase violence and how this segment of the population demonstrates in the extreme, how operating on misinformation is often preferable to the truth. There is a drug like thirst for drama and righteousness that I am really loving this author. There is a clear and professional element in her research and detail in her work. This book really opened my eyes to two things (well a million things) but the two in particular were: the organization of street youth into street families contributed to an increase violence and how this segment of the population demonstrates in the extreme, how operating on misinformation is often preferable to the truth. There is a drug like thirst for drama and righteousness that builds up incredibly quickly and to the members of the community often justifies execution of extreme rules, torturous punishment and even murder. There are many things to say about this book - I couldn't put it down and it simultaneously broke my heart and scared me. It's an important read. I thoroughly recommend it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    JC

    While reading I tried Googling the murdered as well as the murderers, I only found a few stories, so the one good thing I have to say is that the dead get some measure of justice by having their horrific, sadistic deaths given some attention. This is a DNF for me. I do not get queasy easily, I am into real-life crime stories, but this just felt disgustingly voyeuristic just so the author could make a buck. I kept waiting for some insight into actual reasons, not speculations that seemed hackneyed While reading I tried Googling the murdered as well as the murderers, I only found a few stories, so the one good thing I have to say is that the dead get some measure of justice by having their horrific, sadistic deaths given some attention. This is a DNF for me. I do not get queasy easily, I am into real-life crime stories, but this just felt disgustingly voyeuristic just so the author could make a buck. I kept waiting for some insight into actual reasons, not speculations that seemed hackneyed and redundant. It felt like the author had contempt for everyone who even attempted to help street kids. People that give of their time and money with no real help from the state. People who work with limited resources, who are neither police or personally responsible for the kids who pass through their doors. Very disappointing book, in another's hands it could have been much more than sensationalism for sensationalism's sake.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Magdelanye

    This is a meticulous outsiders account of the modern phenomena of a certain sub-sub-sub culture as it flourished for a time bracketed by murders planned by a certain young man who, during that time, acted as street father to a group of kids who had congregated under his leadership. RD gives the backstory to the backstory, and she almost gets it. My main resistance was to the overly explicit violent descriptions. RD really does deliver more than this reader needed to know. Yet it was devastating h This is a meticulous outsiders account of the modern phenomena of a certain sub-sub-sub culture as it flourished for a time bracketed by murders planned by a certain young man who, during that time, acted as street father to a group of kids who had congregated under his leadership. RD gives the backstory to the backstory, and she almost gets it. My main resistance was to the overly explicit violent descriptions. RD really does deliver more than this reader needed to know. Yet it was devastating how similar many of the histories of those involved , however circumstantially, in the murder of a young woman by her peers. This is the legacy of capitalism for its grandchildren.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erin Charpentier

    I love Rene Denfeld and wanted to read this one before the newest Butterfly Girl book. I did not know much about homeless street culture, if anything at all. Having spent time in Denver a few summers ago, I did notice the groups of homeless children together often with older adults but had no idea this had to do with families that form. This was a gritty and often uncomfortable read about the Thantos family, a particularly violent and criminal-led family. It was not easy, but I definitely feel t I love Rene Denfeld and wanted to read this one before the newest Butterfly Girl book. I did not know much about homeless street culture, if anything at all. Having spent time in Denver a few summers ago, I did notice the groups of homeless children together often with older adults but had no idea this had to do with families that form. This was a gritty and often uncomfortable read about the Thantos family, a particularly violent and criminal-led family. It was not easy, but I definitely feel that it's a read no one should miss.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeremiah Rider

    Rene Denfeld... as an individual who LIVED this book...I applaud you...I have a question..when you say that you immersed yourself in the culture, does that mean you were down there with us? Undercover, in a sense? I would love to discuss this book with you. My name is Jeremiah Rider. Please, reach out to me on Facebook if you would like to chat.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Toni Hughes

    The events of this book happened in my community. This book changed how I view homeless people and some of the organizations who serve them. I shared this book dozens of time

  14. 4 out of 5

    Annabelle

    This book seemed biased against the street kids. I don't know much about the culture but it just seemed all negative. Maybe it is. I also feel like a lot of the information repeated itself. This book seemed biased against the street kids. I don't know much about the culture but it just seemed all negative. Maybe it is. I also feel like a lot of the information repeated itself.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Suzan

    An important read about street families throughout the country. This book focuses on a particular “family” in Portland, Oregon.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tracy Davis

    I was just shocked by this book. I was on my own at 18, worked 3 jobs and put myself through college, but I always felt one step away from being on the streets. I went to college in tempe AZ in the late 90s and remember the street kids showing up on mill ave. I often though that could be me and often gave them food. After reading this book I’m absolutely horrified about the violence aspect. I always thought of them as homeless hippy types. Well written book, really opened up my eyes to a world I I was just shocked by this book. I was on my own at 18, worked 3 jobs and put myself through college, but I always felt one step away from being on the streets. I went to college in tempe AZ in the late 90s and remember the street kids showing up on mill ave. I often though that could be me and often gave them food. After reading this book I’m absolutely horrified about the violence aspect. I always thought of them as homeless hippy types. Well written book, really opened up my eyes to a world I had no clue about.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    There is a body of a young girl found on the train tracks in Oregon. She has been beaten and burned beyond recognition. It is found out that her name is Jessica and that she had been involved with a family living on the streets. The street families have their own "laws" and if you do not abide by them, you pay the price. This book was very well researched and you are quickly pulled into the street life and the different families that reside in Oregon. What is the hardest to realize is the violence There is a body of a young girl found on the train tracks in Oregon. She has been beaten and burned beyond recognition. It is found out that her name is Jessica and that she had been involved with a family living on the streets. The street families have their own "laws" and if you do not abide by them, you pay the price. This book was very well researched and you are quickly pulled into the street life and the different families that reside in Oregon. What is the hardest to realize is the violence of members who claim to be Wiccan and don't want anything to do with our "normal" society. They have formed families and they turn on each other for their "laws" being broken, whether or not the "laws" were really broken or it was just implied that they were. Be warned that this is an extremely violent group of people and if you have a weak stomach when it comes to this stuff, don't read the book. I guess my biggest question is, what appeal is there to living on the streets and living by the code of the families? There were some very intelligent and well familied individuals involved in this book. Are kids really just looking for that kind of freedom? But where do they get the idea that this is the freedom, since the rules of the street families seem so much harsher than that of the normal world? This was just sad and really makes you think about the roles that parents play and how hard it is being a parent and wanting the best for your children, when they believe that what they are seeking is much more important. Unfortunately, there are lots of influences upon a teenager and you hope for the best.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    I thought this book was very interesting, especially since it was a story that happened in Portland, Oregon. It had a lot of information that I didn't know about and while I knew that not all children who are on the streets are from abusive families or are thrown out of their homes, I didn't realize how many were choosing to live on the streets because to them it was "fun and exciting" and they are easily able to do so because of all the services offered to them by the teen shelters. It's a scar I thought this book was very interesting, especially since it was a story that happened in Portland, Oregon. It had a lot of information that I didn't know about and while I knew that not all children who are on the streets are from abusive families or are thrown out of their homes, I didn't realize how many were choosing to live on the streets because to them it was "fun and exciting" and they are easily able to do so because of all the services offered to them by the teen shelters. It's a scary situation for kids to be putting themselves into and while I know that the shelters are trying to help those kids that really need it, it's sad that they are, in the process, also causing some kids to make the choice to have that lifestyle when they could be taking a totally different path in their lives. This book had a lot of very disturbing violence in it, it was hard to read about it, but I think it was an important part of the story to see how deep these kids immerse themselves into these street families and the games they play that are very real, very dangerous, and very violent. I

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lorelei

    Heartbreaking and terrifying. The only non-fiction book I've ever read that turned pages like fiction. The people described in this book were brought out one by one and wrapped together intricately throughout, leading to one final event. Even though you knew how the book was going to end, somehow you cared enough for each and every person that you wished along the way the book would re-write itself to a different conclusion. A must read for anyone who lives in Portland, Oregon. It will change ho Heartbreaking and terrifying. The only non-fiction book I've ever read that turned pages like fiction. The people described in this book were brought out one by one and wrapped together intricately throughout, leading to one final event. Even though you knew how the book was going to end, somehow you cared enough for each and every person that you wished along the way the book would re-write itself to a different conclusion. A must read for anyone who lives in Portland, Oregon. It will change how you see this city and the people who walk down the streets. A must read for anyone interested in homelessness, street culture, or street youth. A must read for pretty much anyone interested in quality writing. The author creates a clear distinction between different types of homelessness. "The personal is political" runs a clear line throughout. How can we help those in need and how can we prevent these tools from being abused? How is this conversation unique to Portland? This book is almost ten years old but for some reason it seems freshest today as the conversation reinvents itself.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    "All God's Children" tells a very interesting story about the environment, background and circumstances of a group of people that culminated in an atrocious murder. Rene Denfeld tells the story well and supports the story by including the stories and opinions of police and shelter workers that were in some way involved or connected. It was as good of a read as it was unsettling. That said, "All God's Children" should not be taken as indicative of the entire homeless experience. The murder and beh "All God's Children" tells a very interesting story about the environment, background and circumstances of a group of people that culminated in an atrocious murder. Rene Denfeld tells the story well and supports the story by including the stories and opinions of police and shelter workers that were in some way involved or connected. It was as good of a read as it was unsettling. That said, "All God's Children" should not be taken as indicative of the entire homeless experience. The murder and behavior that is the focus of this book can easily be misconstrued as typical behavior if this is the only book a person reads on the subject. I would strongly advise people interested in this story to read it AND "Voices from the Street" by Jessica P. Morrell to give a more balanced view of street life and the experiences of those living on the streets.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carrie O'Dell

    I basically inhaled this book in two days. While it's a journalistic exploration of street families (which are primarily composed of kids who CHOOSE to live on the street rather than the legitamately homeless who actually have nowhere to go)this reads a bit like a novel at points, pulling the reader into the dark, violent world of these "kids", many of whom are over 18. Ironic that these teens run from the structure of home and family just to place themselves in a world with more rules, more vio I basically inhaled this book in two days. While it's a journalistic exploration of street families (which are primarily composed of kids who CHOOSE to live on the street rather than the legitamately homeless who actually have nowhere to go)this reads a bit like a novel at points, pulling the reader into the dark, violent world of these "kids", many of whom are over 18. Ironic that these teens run from the structure of home and family just to place themselves in a world with more rules, more violent consequences, and a family structure. Makes me wonder if at 16, I would have been pulled into street living with all of its faux anti-establishmentarianism, fantasy role playing, drugs, violence, and, of course, drama.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Keri

    I must admit I inhaled this book in a couple of days, and definitely NOT because it's a feel good story. This is an account of one street family that murdered a young woman hanging out in downtown Portland. It has been interesting to read the reviews and to see how defensive folks get about how this author challenges the romanticized view of homeless youth. I work a bit with this population and I definitely see the issue as complex. Of course all homeless kids are not living in a murderous cult. I must admit I inhaled this book in a couple of days, and definitely NOT because it's a feel good story. This is an account of one street family that murdered a young woman hanging out in downtown Portland. It has been interesting to read the reviews and to see how defensive folks get about how this author challenges the romanticized view of homeless youth. I work a bit with this population and I definitely see the issue as complex. Of course all homeless kids are not living in a murderous cult. However, there ARE kids who choose to reject services that are offered and who do get caught up in a lot of drama. Like most issues, there are shades of gray. Reminds me of "The River's Edge" but much more dark.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    A very dark portrayal of Portland's street youth scene. I have lived in Portland for most of the time covered by this book and I am distressed at how little I knew about the details of the lives of the teens I passed daily on the streets of downtown Portland. Rene Denfield has a clear agenda in this book, an it sometimes clouds her analysis, but it was a good, and sometimes painful counterpoint to the (limited) media coverage on the issue. I think this is an important book to be included on the A very dark portrayal of Portland's street youth scene. I have lived in Portland for most of the time covered by this book and I am distressed at how little I knew about the details of the lives of the teens I passed daily on the streets of downtown Portland. Rene Denfield has a clear agenda in this book, an it sometimes clouds her analysis, but it was a good, and sometimes painful counterpoint to the (limited) media coverage on the issue. I think this is an important book to be included on the reading list of anyone who is concerned about some of the most challenging social service issues in Portland.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Clay Nelson

    I am a teacher, I've worked in alternative school settings that had "street kids", I have a close relative that is a "crustie" (a street kid subculture)and lastly I got this book because I know one of the main kids involved in this horrible true story. Rene Denfeld does a great job in exposing the many problems when it comes to the "street kid" issue. She also does this through the telling of a horrible crime that she has done a good job investigating. Should you read this book - yes But then pleas I am a teacher, I've worked in alternative school settings that had "street kids", I have a close relative that is a "crustie" (a street kid subculture)and lastly I got this book because I know one of the main kids involved in this horrible true story. Rene Denfeld does a great job in exposing the many problems when it comes to the "street kid" issue. She also does this through the telling of a horrible crime that she has done a good job investigating. Should you read this book - yes But then please ask yourself not only what should be done, but what should you do to make sure that another book like this doesn't have to be written.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lew Serviss

    This is an extremely unnerving book. I read it when I lived briefly in Portland and worked in an office very close to the scene of the murder at the center of the story. Portland, like San Francisco and other cities in the Northwest, has a large population of street people. They are not to be confused with homeless people who wander the streets of Eastern cities: many of these Northwest street people are kids and young adults who are drawn to the thrill of living by their wits. Denfeld skillfull This is an extremely unnerving book. I read it when I lived briefly in Portland and worked in an office very close to the scene of the murder at the center of the story. Portland, like San Francisco and other cities in the Northwest, has a large population of street people. They are not to be confused with homeless people who wander the streets of Eastern cities: many of these Northwest street people are kids and young adults who are drawn to the thrill of living by their wits. Denfeld skillfully recreates that world and how a thirst for "drama" led to a brutal murder and created a subculture akin to an urban Lord of the Flies.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    While this true account of and the whole concept of "street families" is horrific, I can't fault the author for that. She did an excellent job objectively relating the events and explaining the culture in great detail. That said, I would NOT recommend this book unless you want yet another reason to believe that our society is doomed and evil is real. All due respect to my friend, Lisa, who recommended this. I can see why it would be compelling for the mother of teenage sons living in Portland. While this true account of and the whole concept of "street families" is horrific, I can't fault the author for that. She did an excellent job objectively relating the events and explaining the culture in great detail. That said, I would NOT recommend this book unless you want yet another reason to believe that our society is doomed and evil is real. All due respect to my friend, Lisa, who recommended this. I can see why it would be compelling for the mother of teenage sons living in Portland.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John Pappas

    Dark and disturbing. Denfeld provides a glimpse inside the world of street urchins and "families" of homeless kids, and shows how the values of the street family culture, relying heavily on codes of conduct derived from a punk ethos, anarchism, Dungeons and Dragons and other subcultures, encouraged a group of kids, including a college student from a middle-class family, to commit multiple beatings and murders. Relying mostly on interviews and less on theory, this cultural study reads more like a Dark and disturbing. Denfeld provides a glimpse inside the world of street urchins and "families" of homeless kids, and shows how the values of the street family culture, relying heavily on codes of conduct derived from a punk ethos, anarchism, Dungeons and Dragons and other subcultures, encouraged a group of kids, including a college student from a middle-class family, to commit multiple beatings and murders. Relying mostly on interviews and less on theory, this cultural study reads more like a true crime book and less like a sociological text.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    This book is well researched and offers a different view of youth who end up living on the street. As a person who loves social psychological theories, I loved reading about how the street families are formed and how quickly they shift. While some people do not like this book because she shows that some of these street kids truly did have other options, I think she is careful about saying that this is the case for all street kids.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lizette Coppinger

    Very good book and very well written. Offers a glimpse into the life of the "gutter hippies" that hang out all over Portland, OR, specially downtown. I'm sure not all of them are like the group discussed in the book but some of those kids out there are pretty scary and plain dirty. With their appearance and obvious strong work ethic, they won't be succeeding in life anytime soon... One can never expect much from these kinds of people. Very good book and very well written. Offers a glimpse into the life of the "gutter hippies" that hang out all over Portland, OR, specially downtown. I'm sure not all of them are like the group discussed in the book but some of those kids out there are pretty scary and plain dirty. With their appearance and obvious strong work ethic, they won't be succeeding in life anytime soon... One can never expect much from these kinds of people.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Krystal

    This book tells about the violence of street families in Portland, OR. It was particularly interesting to read as I am currently living in Portland. While it is a true story, and a riveting one at that, it is not exceptionally well written. Instead of reading like a seamless story, it is somewhat choppily written and there is extraneous information throughout the book. However, it is a good place to begin to get information about the culture of street families.

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