A journalist follows a young mother as she navigates the labyrinth of poverty and homelessness in New York City. In her attempts to secure a safe place to raise her son and find a measure of freedom in her life, Camila—one of 45 million Americans living below the poverty line—copes with dashed dreams, failed relationships, the desolation of abandonment, and miles of red tape with grit, humor, and uncanny resilience.
Camila’s story feels like a warning: If in prosperous times this is the best our government can do to assist those struggling to get by, then in these coming difficult times we will be able to do very little ... a remarkable feat of reporting. Sandler seems to be always at her side ... Sandler’s such a keen observer, her writing so cleareyed ... a testament to the bigness of the small story, to the power of intimate narratives to speak to something much larger. Sandler wisely lets Camila’s story stand on its own without lecturing us. Not to sound clichéd, but we walk in Camila’s shoes. We come to understand what Sandler recognized early on: If Camila can’t navigate the dearth of housing, how can others?
... [an] engaging and moving new book ... Sandler deftly includes context, history and clearheaded explanations of the public welfare system and its dysfunctions in her detailed account of Camila’s life ... The 'system,' ostensibly there to help Camila, who became a ward of the state at age 15, almost becomes a character in the book ... Ultimately, the story of her first year of motherhood is heartbreaking, inspiring and infuriating, all at once.
Camila’s story is both uniquely her own and illustrative of the grindingly dictatorial public assistance programs that are determined not to assist ... As in [Edith] Wharton, there is no pity for the weak. Sandler is skilled in weaving together these scenes with the background to elucidate them ... Camila’s experience must ring true for thousands, yet as a very young homeless mother, she is atypical ... While minutely reporting Camila’s experience, she fails to provide a national portrait of homelessness, skimping on the complexity of the data ... Sandler emphasizes that Camila is exceptional ... she seems perpetually poised for a breakthrough, and her failure to achieve it feels all the more poignant and frustrating. Camila is living proof that a segment of the homeless population would be well served by adequate, affordable housing ... But...Sandler provides little discussion of the efficacy of current [affordable housing] initiatives ... she approaches the issue almost exclusively as Camila’s story, in ways that feel emotionally over-torqued and factually underreported ... That’s where This Is All I Got ultimately founders, failing to go beyond the narrative ... No one imagines that a journalist will solve a subject’s problems or society’s ills, but it’s not unreasonable to expect more than just going along for the ride.