The best books about homelessness and poverty

Who am I?

In March 2020, in the middle of a pandemic that had all but crippled New York City, my husband and I became homeless advocates. For months, we woke up each morning, made dozens of sandwiches, and walked the deserted city streets trying to feed the homeless, who were struggling to survive. Deserted streets meant no panhandling, which in turn, meant no food. In doing so, we became friends with many of the homeless men and women in our neighborhood. Fear and suspicion were replaced by trust and love, and our eyes and hearts were forever opened to people who had once been objects to be avoided.

I wrote...

Unsheltered Love: Homelessness, Hunger and Hope in a City under Siege

By Traci Medford-Rosow,

Book cover of Unsheltered Love: Homelessness, Hunger and Hope in a City under Siege

What is my book about?

In March 2020, the usually crowded streets of Midtown Manhattan were empty, stores were closing, people were afraid to go out. But homeless people were still on the streets, cold and very hungry, and much less able to panhandle in the deserted city. 

Unable to ignore their suffering, the author and her husband started walking the empty streets in their neighborhood, handing out food to the men and women they met. As they showed up, trust replaced the fear and suspicion that had existed within them, as well as within the homeless people they befriended. They listened as the homeless revealed their daily struggles living on the streets, as well as the details that had led to their homelessness. 

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The books I picked & why

Same Kind of Different As Me

By Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent

Book cover of Same Kind of Different As Me

Why did I love this book?

Ron Hall’s #1 New York Times bestselling book, Same Kind of Different as Me, was the first book I read about homelessness, and I credit it with opening my eyes to this crisis. His uplifting story about his wife’s and his efforts to help the homeless in their neighborhood was also made into a film. Ron’s story focuses on one of the many homeless people he helped, a man named Denver Moore, who went on to live with Ron after Ron’s wife died. Denver also co-authored several of Ron’s books. My book is also co-authored with one of the homeless people I met, a woman named Maggie Wright. Our books are the only ones I know of that include the direct voice of a homeless person, and I feel this adds a necessary depth to a story about homelessness.

By Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Same Kind of Different As Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A critically acclaimed #1 New York Times bestseller with more than one million copies in print! Now a major motion picture. Gritty with pain, betrayal, and brutality, this incredible true story also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.

Meet Denver, raised under plantation-style slavery in Louisiana until he escaped the "Man" in the 1960's by hopping a train. Untrusting, uneducated, and violent, he spends 18 years on the streets of Dallas and Fort Worth.

Meet Ron Hall, a self-made millionaire in the world of high-priced deals-an international arts dealer who moves between upscale New York galleries and celebrities.

It seems…

Breaking Night

By Liz Murray,

Book cover of Breaking Night

Why did I love this book?

Liz Murray’s riveting memoir tells of her unlikely rise from homelessness to being accepted to Harvard. It is another classic triumph over adversity story of someone beating the odds. I picked this book because of my own personal experience with homelessness. During the pandemic, my husband and I walked the deserted New York City streets helping to feed the homeless in our neighborhood. This led to the writing of my third book. Like Westover’s story, my book also tells the story of one woman’s rise from living on the streets of New York City to becoming sheltered, employed, and admitted to college. 

By Liz Murray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Breaking Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Liz Murray never really had a chance in life. Born to a drug-addicted father who was in and out of prison, and an equally dependent mother who was in and out of mental institutions, she seemed destined to become just another tragic statistic; another life wasted on the brutal streets of New York.

By the age of 15, Liz found herself homeless with nowhere to turn but the tough streets, riding subways all night for a warm place to sleep and foraging through dumpsters for food. But when her mother died of AIDS a year later, Liz's life changed…

Book cover of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Why did I love this book?

Matthew Desmond’s 2018 nonfiction Pulitzer Prize masterpiece, Evicted, shows the other side of homelessness—people desperately trying to hold on to their low-income housing and not become homeless. Because of my experience with the homeless crisis, I now understand the devastating, and almost irreversible, trauma a person experiences from living on the streets. Our shelter system does not work well because the homeless do not feel safe. We need more low-income housing options for the poor, and Desmond’s book lays this out in unapologetic detail as he follows the stories of eight people in the lowest level of the housing market. 

By Matthew Desmond,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Evicted as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Beautifully written, thought-provoking, and unforgettable ... If you want a good understanding of how the issues that cause poverty are intertwined, you should read this book' Bill Gates, Best Books of 2017

Arleen spends nearly all her money on rent but is kicked out with her kids in Milwaukee's coldest winter for years. Doreen's home is so filthy her family call it 'the rat hole'. Lamar, a wheelchair-bound ex-soldier, tries to work his way out of debt for his boys. Scott, a nurse turned addict, lives in a gutted-out trailer. This is…

Book cover of This Is All I Got: A New Mother's Search for Home

Why did I love this book?

This Is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home tells the story of the difficulty of finding acceptable housing for the poor in New York City. Sandler follows the story of a young, poor, unwed mother, Camila, for one year as she struggles to find safe and affordable housing for herself and her newborn son. Against all odds, red tape, and never-ending bureaucracy, Camila never gives up. I found this story inspiring as well as educational about the homelessness crisis in New York City, a new found passion after my experience trying to feed the homeless during the first year of the pandemic.

By Lauren Sandler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked This Is All I Got as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • From an award-winning journalist, a poignant and gripping immersion in the life of a young, homeless single mother amid her quest to find stability and shelter in the richest city in America

LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/JEAN STEIN BOOK AWARD • “Riveting . . . a remarkable feat of reporting.”—The New York Times

Camila is twenty-two years old and a new mother. She has no family to rely on, no partner, and no home. Despite her intelligence and determination, the odds are firmly stacked against her. In this extraordinary work of literary reportage, Lauren…

Book cover of Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City

Why did I love this book?

Andrea Elliott’s book (winner of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction) shows just how difficult it is for anyone to overcome the circumstances into which they are born. Elliott follows the rise of one young girl, Dasani, living in the projects with her drug-addicted mother and stepfather. Despite being given many opportunities, including being educated in one of the finest prep schools in the country, Dasani finds it difficult to break free of her roots. This highlighted for me just how unusual Liz Murray’s and Tara Westover’s accomplishments are.

By Andrea Elliott,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Invisible Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A “vivid and devastating” (The New York Times) portrait of an indomitable girl—from acclaimed journalist Andrea Elliott

“From its first indelible pages to its rich and startling conclusion, Invisible Child had me, by turns, stricken, inspired, outraged, illuminated, in tears, and hungering for reimmersion in its Dickensian depths.”—Ayad Akhtar, author of Homeland Elegies

ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Atlantic, The New York Times Book Review, Time, NPR, Library Journal

In Invisible Child, Pulitzer Prize winner…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in homelessness, New York City, and poverty?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about homelessness, New York City, and poverty.

Homelessness Explore 28 books about homelessness
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Poverty Explore 85 books about poverty