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Understanding Homelessness: From Memoir to Pathways Home (May 2014): Personal Accounts of Homelessness

By Irene Glasser and Eric Hirsch

Personal Accounts of Homelessness

Memoirs of homelessness are important as a window into an experience that most people will never know.  The failure of most citizens and policy makers to know and understand the lives of homeless people leads to failure to demand a solution to homelessness.  However, these memoirs often lack any consideration of the structural economic and political causes of homelessness.  They usually accept the notion that homelessness is caused by personal failings of various kinds.  In addition, these accounts typically feature a heartwarming story of how an individual or a family has overcome homelessness, thus leaving out the thousands of people who remain stuck without housing, often for years at a time.  The following titles of memoirs offer a more useful approach to the subject.

In Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street, Lee Stringer provides an account of living on the streets of New York City, describes his crack addiction during the late 1980s crack epidemic, and reveals how he found his way out of homelessness and addiction through his writing.  The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls offers a useful description of what it is like for families dealing with poverty, substance abuse, and homelessness—how they are forced to deal with the associated issues of lack of food, inadequate clothing, and the disruptive effects of frequent moves.

Michelle Kennedy’s Without a Net: Middle Class and Homeless in America describes the aftermath of separation and divorce.  Kennedy left the family home after her husband left his well-paying job for a life as a logger.  With her three children, she settled in a town on the coast of Maine.  As her waitress job did not pay enough to provide for housing, they, like many other homeless families, were forced to live in their station wagon.  Lisa Gray-Garcia’s Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America tells how the author and her mother fell into homelessness after being abandoned by her father.  Along with the survival strategies she documents, Gray-Garcia presents a picture of how homelessness is criminalized.

Richard LeMieux’s Breakfast at Sally’s: One Homeless Man’s Inspirational Journey depicts how the author lost everything when the Internet destroyed his publishing business.  He became clinically depressed and then lost his friends, family, and all of his possessions.  The book details his journey into homelessness and back, focusing on how he lived day to day and how he benefited from the kindness of strangers.

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