What should I read about homelessness
April 14, 2014 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations of books, articles, films or other media about homelessness in the US.

Really anything - this is a very open-ended research project - but for example the history of homelessness, intersection with drug use, Vietnam, mental illness, economics, racism, urban planning, Western migration, I don't know, I'm just kind of guessing what might be out there. Dry statistics, fiction, popular journalism, unpopular journalism, memoirs, etc all welcome.
posted by latkes to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I just watched these two items recently:

*Lost Angels (2010), a documentary about Skid Row in Los Angeles.
*Real Change (2013), a short (8 min?) documentary about homeless people who sell the Real Change street newspaper. I think I found this through a post on the blue.
posted by cardinality at 8:53 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Travels With Lizbeth
posted by thelonius at 8:56 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ted Conover's Rolling Nowhere is pretty great.

If you can find it The Decline of Western Civilization III is an interesting documentary on the mid-90s "Gutter Punk" scene in Los Angeles.

Jim Goldberg's 1995 photograph collection Raised by Wolves that chronicles the homeless and runaways of Los Angeles and San Francisco is also a great source if you can find it. It features Tweaky Dave from the Jerry Springer show (pre-total sideshow days).
posted by playertobenamedlater at 8:58 AM on April 14, 2014

Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois and Jeffrey Schonberg.
Also seconding Travels with Lizbeth.
posted by littlecatfeet at 9:06 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If an ongoing contemporary situation would be of interest, many of my friends are involved with Occupy Madison Build, which is slowly working through any number of legal and practical issues in quite literally creating solutions to homelessness. The director of Madison's Tenant Resource Center's blog often covers the legal aspects in more depth.
posted by teremala at 9:20 AM on April 14, 2014

Invisible Child: Girl in the Shadows - Dasani's Homeless Life was an in-depth NYTimes report that got a lot of traction last year.

Hidden City
by Ian Frazier appeared in the New Yorker around the same time, also on topic.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:47 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I second thelonius's recommendation for Travels with Lizbeth. A very interesting review is here (warning for those accessing from work: for no apparent reason, that page has a small, artistic photo of a topless woman).

Here's an excerpt from the review:
If you aren't a gay homeless dog owner in Austin, Texas, then you are unlikely to ever live the experiences that [Lars] Eighner so vividly describes. After you read this book, you will not feel the same about homelessness, our social welfare system, or materialism. I can't exactly guarantee that you will come to feel one particular way or another. But you will learn something.
posted by alex1965 at 10:25 AM on April 14, 2014

Stranger to the System is a collection of life stories of 20 people who lived in and around Thompkins Square Park in Manhattan in the early 2000s. It's one of the books I reread every couple of years.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:26 AM on April 14, 2014

Beneath the Neon is a book about homless people living in the tunnels of Las Vegas (previous post). Video about the tunnels.
posted by get off of my cloud at 10:36 AM on April 14, 2014

There's an interesting documentary called Dark Days about homeless people who live in abandoned subway tunnels below New York City.
posted by alex1965 at 10:45 AM on April 14, 2014

Dark Days (2000, UK) is a documentary about the homeless community living at the time in New York City's abandoned transit tunnels. The British filmmaker, Marc Singer, got to know the people in the community by living with them for several months and ended up employing many of them as the film crew. Here is a Guardian UK article from this year that looks back at the director, the movie and how it was made.

[on preview: jinx alex1965]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:56 AM on April 14, 2014

Homeless Isn't Hopeless is a free e-book by William Laney documenting his time of homelessness. Note: I know the person who converted the original text into an e-book.
posted by IncognitoErgoSum at 11:23 AM on April 14, 2014

Search for whether there is a Street Sense paper in your town. It will give you a real time homeless perspective on where you live.
posted by postel's law at 12:09 PM on April 14, 2014

Without Keys: My 15 Weeks With the Street People is one woman's experience with homelessness in Minneapolis, MN in the mid 1980s.

I was really struck by her description of how hard it was to access resources supposedly intended to help the homeless, even for an educated person who was not dealing with mental illness or addiction.
posted by superna at 6:56 PM on April 14, 2014

Street Sheet is a newspaper written and distributed by homeless people (and a support staff) in San Francisco.
posted by JDC8 at 7:02 PM on April 14, 2014

I would also check out a documentary called Dope Sick Love. It focuses more on drug addiction and prostitution than homelessness per se, but there is some overlap there.
posted by alex1965 at 6:22 AM on April 15, 2014

Wendy and Lucy, a heartbreaking 2008 film from Kelly Reichardt, with Michelle Williams.
posted by mmiddle at 6:47 AM on April 15, 2014

Charlie O'Hay's Everyone Has a Name Project. (my MeFi post from 2012, and it's follow-up on MeTa)
posted by jillithd at 6:47 AM on April 15, 2014

Here's a very interesting article from the New York Times, about an unconventional approach to helping homeless alcoholics. The homeless people are given apartments, and there is no rule against drinking: "In a controversial acknowledgment of their addiction, the residents — 70 men and 5 women — can drink in their rooms. They do not have to promise to drink less, attend Alcoholics Anonymous or go to church [...] These are the 'unsympathetic homeless' who beg, drink, urinate and vomit in public — and they are probably the most difficult to get off the streets..."

"Homeless Alcoholics Receive a Permanent Place to Live, and Drink", By Jessica Kowal, July 5, 2006.

The article was published eight years ago -- I wonder how the program is doing now.
posted by alex1965 at 7:58 AM on April 15, 2014

As I study public space & urban planning, my suggestions are in the academic vein (from newest to oldest). Please memail me if you'd like me to share any specific articles with you. Out of the ones I listed, the most helpful to me as a planning student is Blomley's article. The one I quote the most (it's so eloquent and thoughtful I've actually included entire paragraphs in testimony to the state legislature on some boneheaded anti-homeless bills) is Waldron's article. Also seconding Righteous Dopefiend.

DeVerteuil, Geoffrey, Jon May, and Jürgen Von Mahs. "Complexity not collapse: recasting the geographies of homelessness in a ‘punitive’ age." Progress in Human Geography 33.5 (2009): 646-666.

Blomley, Nicholas. "How to Turn a Beggar into a Bus Stop: Law, Traffic and the'Function of the Place'." Urban Studies 44.9 (2007): 1697-1712.

Duneier, Mitchell. Sidewalk. Macmillan, 1999.

Wright, Talmadge. Out of place: Homeless mobilizations, subcities, and contested landscapes. SUNY Press, 1997.

Ellickson, Robert C. "Controlling chronic misconduct in city spaces: of panhandlers, skid rows, and public-space zoning." Yale Law Journal (1996): 1165-1248.

Veness, April R. "Home and homelessness in the United States: changing ideals and realities." Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10.4 (1992): 445-468.

Waldron, Jeremy. "Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom." UCLA Law Review 39 (1991): 295.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:11 AM on April 18, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all for these suggestions so far folks. I've started by ordering some of these books and movies from the library. It turns out I can access a lot of full text articles through the library website too.

(Damn I love libraries and of course not coincidentally libraries are functioning as one of the safety net physical spaces for homeless people.)
posted by latkes at 10:14 AM on April 18, 2014

Response by poster: Early update:

Read Righteous Dopefiend: really excellent, thoughtful and deep descriptions and analysis, and remarkably engaging given it is academic in nature.

Almost done with Travels with Lizbeth: Also excellent writing, engaging story of a smart, unconventional guy and how he can't really "succeed" because of society.

Watched Wendy and Lucy which was a beautiful little movie.

Continuing through the recommendations here but wanted to thank you all for the wide-ranging suggestion.
posted by latkes at 8:40 PM on May 12, 2014

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