The best books about homelessness

5 authors have picked their favorite books about homelessness and why they recommend each book.

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Stuart

By Alexander Masters,

Book cover of Stuart: A Life Backwards

“Middle-class academic writes nonfiction about homeless substance abuser” – that sounds like a recipe for overweening earnestness at best, or at worst an exploitative catastrophe. But right from the first line of this astonishing book you know that the author isn’t entirely in control, that the subject, his troubled friend Stuart Shorter, has agency in these pages in a way he seldom did elsewhere in life. It’s a gut-crunchingly sad story, but also often very funny – which, you get the feeling, is exactly how Stuart would have wanted it.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by nonfiction since my teens, by the idea of books about things that really happened. Fiction gets all the kudos, all the big prizes, all the respect. But as far as I’m concerned, trying to wrestle the unruly matter of reality onto the page is much more challenging – imaginatively, technically, ethically – than simply making things up! My book The Travel Writing Tribe is all about those challenges – and about the people, the well-known travel writers, who have to confront them every time they put pen to paper.


I wrote...

The Travel Writing Tribe: Journeys in Search of a Genre

By Tim Hannigan,

Book cover of The Travel Writing Tribe: Journeys in Search of a Genre

What is my book about?

Where can travel writing go in the twenty-first century? Author and lifelong travel writing aficionado Tim Hannigan sets out in search of this most venerable of genres, hunting down its legendary practitioners and confronting its greatest controversies. Is it ever okay for travel writers to make things up, and just where does the frontier between fact and fiction lie? What actually is travel writing, and is it just a genre dominated by posh white men? What of travel writing’s queasy colonial connections?

Travelling from Monaco to Eton, from wintry Scotland to sun-scorched Greek hillsides, Hannigan swills beer with the indomitable Dervla Murphy, sips tea with the doyen of British explorers, delves into the diaries of Wilfred Thesiger and Patrick Leigh Fermor, and gains unexpected insights from Colin Thubron, Samanth Subramanian, Kapka Kassabova, William Dalrymple and many others. But along the way he realises how much is at stake: can his own love of travel writing survive this journey?

Becoming Chloe

By Catherine Ryan Hyde,

Book cover of Becoming Chloe

Catherine Ryan Hyde does a masterful job of showing us the stark reality of teen homelessness through the eyes of Jordy and Chloe. The content of the first few chapters was hard for me to read because of what young people must do to survive on the street and what traumas lead them there in the first place. As the story unfolded, though, Hyde took me on a warm and loving journey as Jordy set out to show Chloe that there truly is a lot of beauty in the world. 


Who am I?

Teaching middle school made me painfully aware of the disparity in our students’ lives. Some kids have every advantage, while others struggle to survive without enough food, clean water, or a safe, dry place to sleep for the night. All these kids, with their diverse backgrounds, sit side-by-side in class and are expected to perform at the same academic and social levels. In my novels, I feature ordinary teens that are strong, smart, and resilient, like so many of the students who taught me as much as I taught them.


I wrote...

Sleeping in My Jeans

By Connie King Leonard,

Book cover of Sleeping in My Jeans

What is my book about?

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Rollins has it all figured out. She’ll ace her advanced high school courses, earn a college scholarship, and create a new life for herself and her family. There’s no time for distractions—no friends, no fun, and especially no boys.

But Mattie’s brilliant plan for a better life begins to crumble after becoming homeless, forcing her, her mom, and her six-year-old sister, Meg to live in the confines of their beat-up station wagon, Ruby. With new problems hitting her at every turn and fewer options every day, Mattie must learn to live–not just survive–in their circumstances. When her mother mysteriously disappears, Mattie races to find her before she slips away forever, along with Mattie’s hopes and dreams of a stable future.

This Is All I Got

By Lauren Sandler,

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

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.


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. 

Learning to Breathe

By Janice Lynn Mather,

Book cover of Learning to Breathe

Learning to Breathe tells such an important side of the #MeToo Movement, with sixteen-year-old Indira (Indy), a Black Bahamian girl who struggles to find her place in the aftermath of an assault that leads to an unwanted pregnancy. Set in the Bahamas, a place so often portrayed in Western culture as idyllic, it depicts a very different gritty and authentic lived reality for the main character. This heart-rending, yet empowering novel is enlightening on so many levels. Not only does it offer the unique and all-too-often overlooked point of view of a young person of color, but it also deals with complex family issues, homelessness, and a young woman’s path to claiming power over her own body and future. 


Who am I?

I began writing The Way I Used to Be back in 2010. For me, it started simply as a place to work through my own private thoughts and feelings about sexual violence. I was writing as a survivor myself, but also as someone who has known, loved, and cared for so many others who have experienced violence and abuse. By the time I finished, I realized my novel had evolved into something much bigger: a story I hoped could contribute something meaningful to the larger dialogue. These powerful books on this list are all a part of that dialogue, each based in a richly diverse, yet shared reality. Readers will learn, grow, heal, and find hope in these pages.


I wrote...

The Way I Used to Be

By Amber Smith,

Book cover of The Way I Used to Be

What is my book about?

Eden was always good at being good. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, everything changes. What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved, she now hates. What she thought was true…now lies. She knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So, she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative novel reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, all while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had.

Danny, King of the Basement

By David S. Craig,

Book cover of Danny, King of the Basement

This is a play about homelessness. It takes a topic that’s often on the news and makes it personal and relevant through the perspectives of Danny and his mom as they navigate real reasons for living on the street. It’s a captivating story, and kids need to read more plays—along with graphic novels—because they take us on a wonderful journey through dialogue. 


Who am I?

I love middle-grade stories that touch the mind, the heart, and the funny bone. These books are filled with possibilities and hope—they give me courage for the future. I have three grown sons who have inspired much of my thinking about children and childhood, and I keep close to me all of the children I worked with as a teacher, hoping they might finally see themselves and the world they know in the pages of what their children read. I’m grateful to other writers who inspire me to read, and to write, creating the best stories we can for kids living now, today, in the world we have (and imagining the world we want to see). 


I wrote...

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

By Beverley Brenna, Tara Anderson (illustrator),

Book cover of Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

What is my book about?

Nine-year-old Jeannie really, really wants a hamster. Her dad has moved out, her mother is busy with work, and her brother might be addicted to video games. Sapphire really, really wants a family. Life in the pet store is no picnic, and it’s been hard imagining the thrill of freedom. Both narrators come together in a hilarious, heartwarming story about finding one’s place in the world. 

Jeannie’s dad and his new partner are gay, and Jeannie’s family expands to include Robin, along with Sapphire—a very special rodent whose existential wonders frame an important story about belonging. Anna, a trans woman who lives in the neighborhood, completes a cast of characters that encourage readers to embrace diversity, recognize their purpose, and be who they are. 

Breaking Night

By Liz Murray,

Book cover of Breaking Night

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. 


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. 

Street Kids

By Marlene Webber,

Book cover of Street Kids: The Tragedy of Canada's Runaways

Amazing non-fiction book featuring the real-life voices of homeless youth and the horrors they face from sexual exploitation to drug use, violence, and more.

I used this book for research for Theories. The stories from these kids broke my heart and made me determined to show the need for more resources for homeless youth. Leaves nothing to the imagination.


Who am I?

I am a Canadian middle-grade, YA author, who's always on the lookout for a new story. I have walked into trees while watching an event unfold on a street, sat in coffee shops shamelessly listening to other people's conversations, and talked to strangers to hear their stories. In 2000 I was walking in downtown London and saw a teenage boy sitting on a bench with a hat in front of him collecting money. He became my Dylan. In front of a church in London was a pregnant girl, also collecting money. She became my Amber. I contacted youth services and researched everything I could to find out information on homeless youth. It was quite a journey.


I wrote...

Theories of Relativity

By Barbara Haworth-Attard,

Book cover of Theories of Relativity

What is my book about?

Thrown out of his house by his mother, sixteen-year-old Dylan is living on the streets, trying to find his place in a dark, painful and complicated world of drugs, violence, and sex trafficking. An unflinching look at homeless youth and their struggles.

Theories of Relativity was a 2003 finalist for the Governor-General’s Award, Canada.

Homecoming

By Cynthia Voigt,

Book cover of Homecoming: Volume 1

Homecoming has been around for a long time, but it is a story I’ve never forgotten. Voigt opens her novel with Dicey Tillerman, thirteen, and her three younger siblings abandoned by their mother in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The only way Dicey can keep the family together is to get them to a great-aunt’s home, but that means a long journey with little money. This is a tale of fiction, yet it exemplifies the courage and strength that so many kids muster in the face of impossible odds. I’ve always felt that too many people underestimate the resilience of our youth.


Who am I?

Teaching middle school made me painfully aware of the disparity in our students’ lives. Some kids have every advantage, while others struggle to survive without enough food, clean water, or a safe, dry place to sleep for the night. All these kids, with their diverse backgrounds, sit side-by-side in class and are expected to perform at the same academic and social levels. In my novels, I feature ordinary teens that are strong, smart, and resilient, like so many of the students who taught me as much as I taught them.


I wrote...

Sleeping in My Jeans

By Connie King Leonard,

Book cover of Sleeping in My Jeans

What is my book about?

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Rollins has it all figured out. She’ll ace her advanced high school courses, earn a college scholarship, and create a new life for herself and her family. There’s no time for distractions—no friends, no fun, and especially no boys.

But Mattie’s brilliant plan for a better life begins to crumble after becoming homeless, forcing her, her mom, and her six-year-old sister, Meg to live in the confines of their beat-up station wagon, Ruby. With new problems hitting her at every turn and fewer options every day, Mattie must learn to live–not just survive–in their circumstances. When her mother mysteriously disappears, Mattie races to find her before she slips away forever, along with Mattie’s hopes and dreams of a stable future.

Same Kind of Different As Me

By Ron Hall, Denver Moore,

Book cover of Same Kind of Different As Me

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.


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. 

I See You

By Michael Genhart, Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (illustrator),

Book cover of I See You

Although this picture book has no words, its message of caring and compassion is clear and powerful. A small boy becomes aware of a homeless woman and simply, gently, acknowledges her. This innocent and kind book serves may serve as an opening to talk to children about homelessness. It also may help us all to remember not to ignore those less fortunate.


Who am I?

I have always loved children. I love tiny babies just discovering the world around them. I love elementary-age kids who are taking pride in developing new skills and learning how to deal with challenges. I love teens who are questioning and rethinking the things they thought they knew. I also love the science and practice of psychology (my profession for over thirty years) and, I love books. To date, I have written nine books. My audience ranges from preschool to high school and topics include strategies to understand and cope with problems as well as psychology as a topic of study.


I wrote...

Yes I Can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

By Kendra J. Barrett, Jacqueline B. Toner, Claire A. B. Freeland, Violet Lemay (illustrator)

Book cover of Yes I Can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

What is my book about?

Carolyn is a happy, energetic, first-grader who just happens to be in a wheelchair. She’s excited to start her new year of school and make new friends. Yes I Can! follows Carolyn on a typical day at home, at school, and even on a field trip. She can do most of the things the other kids do, even if sometimes she has to do it a little differently.

Written by a physical therapist and two psychologists, this picture book includes a note to parents, caregivers, and teachers with more information about discussing disabilities with children and helping them to build positive empathic relationships.

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