There are many different ways to look at homelessness, and it looks different from each angle and in each place. As of 2019, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 500,00 people in the United States don’t have a stable place to live. But many people who study the issue think that number doesn’t include people who “double up” with family and friends or stay at temporary motels to fill the gaps when they don’t have enough housing. The idea that homelessness is caused by irresponsibility or moral failings, or that people who are unsheltered are doing so because they want to be. This complicates the process of addressing and ending homelessness. Nonfiction books about homelessness are shown below. They were written for adults, and they talk about homelessness from a nonfiction point of view.
If you read books about homelessness, you should be aware that there isn’t much representation of women and authors of color. This is a problem because people who aren’t like the rest of us are more likely to be homeless because of centuries of discriminatory housing practices and social policies that still exist today.
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
During his childhood, he lived with only one mother, who left his alcoholic father when he was very young. He then became involved in crime as an adolescent, and then worked as a caseworker at a Boston shelter. It is there that he meets his father, whom he has only known through letters and sporadic trips. Flynn talks about how childhood trauma and exposure to violence can make people unstable for the rest of their lives. He also talks about how his relationship with his father and the stories he told shaped his own life and decisions. A powerful story and first-hand account of homelessness and the effects having an unsheltered family member can have.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
We get to see the lives of eight Milwaukee families who are struggling to keep their homes in Desmond’s sociological study. The book is about homelessness and has a lot of research behind it, too. As Desmond gets to know the families, he shows how the usual stories about homelessness as a moral failing or a predetermined consequence are generalizations that are used to sweep the plight of people who are about to lose their homes into a neat box. As someone who has lived through the stress of having to find a place to live, Desmond shows how the stress of finding a place to live, as well as the long-term effects of discriminatory housing laws and lending practices, trap families in cycles of poverty.
Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir by Janice Erlbaum
A memoir of Erlbaum’s life after she left her childhood home at the age of 15 and lived on the streets. Erlbaum and her friends are shown having crushes, going to class, and writing for the school newspaper, but the book also shows how Erlbaum fights for her life on the streets of New York in the 1980s. In this account, Erlbaum talks about how she used drugs and was sexually abused to keep herself going. She also talks about how dangerous it is for kids who live in violent homes to leave and start a new life on their own.
Kicked Out edited by Sassafras Lowry
LGBTQ youth who have been homeless because of their sexual orientation or transition can share their stories in this book, which is a good way for them to be heard. The stories don’t just talk about how many LGBTQ teens are living on the streets. They also talk about things like access to mental health services, high rates of suicide by LGBTQ youth, and the violence gender nonconforming people face in society.
No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg
Berg works as a caseworker at two group homes for LGBTQ young people who have been kicked out of or run away from home because of a lack of acceptance or the threat of violence. Berg wants to raise awareness about the fact that a lot of LGBTQ young people are homeless and the choices many young people have to make between coming out and losing their homes, families, and other resources to meet their basic needs. As part of his book, Berg tells the stories of young people he’s worked with personally. He also talks about the institutional and societal homophobia and transphobia that must be changed in order to end this crisis.
To go along with the books I already talked about, there are a lot of great novels and short stories about homelessness, as well as children’s and young adult books that talk about it in a way that’s right for them. The mix of memoirs and research-based accounts here should help you start to see how big and complicated the issue of homelessness is, as well as help you understand the societal systems that make it more likely that people end up on the streets.
Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives Of Homeless Women (1993) – Elliot Liebow
It doesn’t matter that this book was written 30 years ago, because it still has a lot to offer. It gives a close look at the lives of women and the relationships they make while living in shelters. Hour by hour, the book puts the reader right next to the women. Homeless people aren’t stuck in their ways and aren’t willing to change. Rather, homeless women face a lot of problems in a society that doesn’t care about them.
Author: Elliot Liebow was an anthropologist, poet, sociologist, and poet. He also wrote a book. At the National Institute on Mental Health, he was the head of the Center for Work and Mental Health. For many years, he was in charge of this group of people. His career has been full of awards, such as the John W. Macy Award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which is given to people who help the poor. In 1994, he passed away.
Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives (2015) – Deborah Padgett, Benjamin Henwood, and Sam Tsemberis
Housing First is a proven way to end homelessness. New York City was the first to use it in 1992, and it has since spread to cities across the country and around the world. HF is an alternative to shelters and programs that help people find housing. This book talks about the history of homelessness, the “homeless industry” of religious, non-profit, and advocacy groups, and research on how HF works. Anyone who wants to learn more about how to help people who are homeless should read this book.
Deborah Padgett is an author and qualitative methodologist who is known for her work on homelessness. An expert in mental health and housing service research is Dr. Benjamin Henwood at the University of Southern California. Dr. Sam Tsemberis is the person who came up with the idea of “housing first.” He is on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.