In our last blog post, we shared 12 Fiction Books About Homelessness to Add to Your Summer Reading List. These fiction books are perfect for getting lost in a story on a sunny day at the beach.
But others of you might prefer to read about real stories of homelessness. So we’re back today with a list of 12 nonfiction books about homelessness that you’ll want to check out.
The books on this list tell REAL stories of people experiencing homeless. Some are written from a first person perspective. Others are based on academic research or real life experiences with homeless men and women. The common denominator is that they can shed light on what it means to be homeless (and what myths we need to leave behind).
To learn more about this important topic, check out our list of 12 nonfiction books about homelessness below.
12 Nonfiction Books About Homelessness
The information below, including descriptions and ratings, comes from Amazon. To learn more, read reviews, and purchase a book, click on the Amazon link underneath each description.
Born Bright: A Young Girl’s Journey from Nothing to Something in America by C. Nicole Mason (2016)
4.6 out of 5 stars (95 ratings)
“So begins Born Bright, C. Nicole Mason’s powerful memoir, a story of reconciliation, constrained choices and life on the other side of the tracks. Born in the 1970s in Los Angeles, California, Mason was raised by a beautiful, but volatile16-year-old single mother. Early on, she learned to navigate between an unpredictable home life and school where she excelled.
By high school, Mason was seamlessly straddling two worlds. The first, a cocoon of familiarity where street smarts, toughness and the ability to survive won the day. The other, foreign and unfamiliar with its own set of rules, not designed for her success. In her Advanced Placement classes and outside of her neighborhood, she felt unwelcomed and judged because of the way she talked, dressed and wore her hair.
After moving to Las Vegas to live with her paternal grandmother, she worked nights at a food court in one of the Mega Casinos while finishing school. Having figured out the college application process by eavesdropping on the few white kids in her predominantly Black and Latino school along with the help of a long ago high school counselor, Mason eventually boarded a plane for Howard University, alone and with $200 in her pocket.
While showing us her own path out of poverty, Mason examines the conditions that make it nearly impossible to escape and exposes the presumption harbored by many―that the poor don’t help themselves enough.”
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (2017)
4.7 out of 5 stars (5235 ratings)
“In Evicted, Princeton sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they each struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Hailed as “wrenching and revelatory” (The Nation), “vivid and unsettling” (New York Review of Books), Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of twenty-first-century America’s most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.”
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
From the Ashes: My Story of Being Metis, Homeless, and Finding My Way by Jesse Thistle (2021)
4.6 out of 5 stars (1494 ratings)
“Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle briefly found himself in the foster-care system with his two brothers, cut off from all they had known. Eventually, the children landed in the home of their paternal grandparents, whose tough-love attitudes quickly resulted in conflicts. Throughout it all, the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling with all that had happened, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, spending more than a decade on and off the streets, often homeless. Finally, he realized he would die unless he turned his life around.
In this heart-warming and heart-wrenching memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful past, the abuse he endured, and how he uncovered the truth about his parents. Through sheer perseverance and education – and newfound love – he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family.”
Homeless at Harvard: Finding Faith and Friendship on the Streets of Harvard Square by John Christopher Frame (2013)
4.4 out of 5 stars (46 ratings)
“Harvard Square is at the center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the business district around Harvard University. It’s a place of history, culture, and some of the most momentous events of the nation. But it’s also a gathering place for some of the city’s homeless.
What is life like for the homeless in Harvard Square? Do they have anything to tell people about life? And God?
That’s what Harvard student John Frame discovered and shares in Homeless at Harvard. While taking his final course at Harvard, John Frame stepped outside the walls of academia and onto the streets, pursuing a different kind of education with his homeless friends. What he found – in the way of community and how people understand themselves – may surprise you.
In this unique book, each of these urban pioneers shares his own story, providing insider perspectives of life as homeless people see it. This heartwarming pause-resister shows how John learned with, from, and about his homeless friends – who together tell an unforgettable story – helping listeners better understand problems outside themselves and that they’re more similar to those on the streets than they may have believed.”
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder (2018)
4.5 out of 5 stars (8300 ratings)
“From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon’s CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads.
On frequently traveled routes between seasonal jobs, Jessica Bruder meets people from all walks of life: a former professor, a McDonald’s vice president, a minister, a college administrator, and a motorcycle cop, among many others―including her irrepressible protagonist, a onetime cocktail waitress, Home Depot clerk, and general contractor named Linda May.
In a secondhand vehicle she christens “Van Halen,” Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying Linda May and others from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy―one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, she celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive. Like Linda May, who dreams of finding land on which to build her own sustainable “Earthship” home, they have not given up hope.”
Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America by Jonathan Kozol (1988)
4.6 out of 5 stars (119 ratings)
“Jonathan Kozol is one of America’s most forceful and eloquent observers of the intersection of race, poverty, and education. His books, from the National Book Award–winning Death at an Early Age to the critically acclaimed Shame of the Nation, are touchstones of the national conscience. First published in 1988 and based on the months the author spent among America’s homeless, Rachel and Her Children is an unforgettable record of the desperate voices of men, women, and especially children caught up in a nightmarish situation that tears at the hearts of readers. With record numbers of homeless children and adults flooding the nation’s shelters, Rachel and Her Children offers a look at homelessness that resonates even louder today.”
Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women by Elliot Liebow
4.5 out of 5 stars (84 reviews)
“In Tell Them Who I Am, Liebow carefully investigates and documents the patterns and routines of homeless women. These are not the most visible homeless, Liebow tells us, not the “throwaway” homeless we see on the street. Rather they are members of the larger but less visible majority of people who are homeless but who still retain connections with society. These are people who have fallen into homelessness for many reasons; some may rise again, and some will sink. Their daily lives are thus a struggle not merely to survive but to keep alive their hope – and their humanity – in the face of what for many are insuperable obstacles. Through the women’s own words and Liebow’s thoughtful and sympathetic commentary, Tell Them Who I Am examines every aspect of their lives; the variety of jobs the women have, as well as the obstacles which prevent some from obtaining employment; relationships with family members, friends, and lovers, both within and outside the shelter; conflicts with the shelter staff and the need to maintain a sense of privacy in a public environment; the frustrations of dealing with an inefficient and underfunded public bureaucracy; and the struggle to maintain a fragile sense of community in the face of such destructive forces as racism and mental illness. Elliot Liebow brings the maturity of a lifetime’s work as one of America’s most sensitive and admired urban anthropologists to bear on this painful subject. He shows a side of our society – the lower tier – that few have seen and argues that only through a deeper understanding of poverty and its consequences will we ever be able to address successfully the problem of homelessness.”
The Bridesmaid’s Daughter: From Grace Kelly’s Wedding to a Women’s Shelter – Searching for the Truth About My Mother by Nyna Giles (2018)
4.5 out of 5 stars (119 ratings)
Nyna Giles was picking up groceries at the supermarket one day when she looked down and saw the headline on the cover of a tabloid: “Former Bridesmaid of Princess Grace Lives in Homeless Shelter.” Nyna was stunned, shocked to see her family’s private ordeal made so public―the woman mentioned on that cover, Carolyn Scott Reybold, was her mother.
Nyna’s childhood had been spent in doctor’s offices. Too ill, she was told, to go to school like other children, she spent nearly every waking moment at her mother’s side at their isolated Long Island estate or on trips into the city to see the ballet. The doctors couldn’t tell her what was wrong, but as Nyna grew up, her mother, who’d always seemed fragile, became more and more distant. Now Nyna was forced to confront an agonizing realization: she barely knew the woman on the magazine in front of her.
She knew that her mother had been a model after arriving in New York in 1947, living at the Barbizon Hotel, where she’d met the young Grace Kelly and that the two had become fast friends. Nyna had seen the photos of Carolyn at Grace’s wedding, wearing the yellow bridesmaid gown that had hung in her closet for years. But how had the seemingly confident, glamorous woman in those pictures become the mother she knew growing up―the mother who was now living in a shelter?
In this powerful memoir of friendship and motherhood, Nyna Giles uncovers her mother’s past to answer the questions she never knew to ask.
The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez
4.6 out of 5 stars (454 ratings)
“The New York Times bestselling true story that inspired the major motion picture—an “unforgettable tale of hope, heart and humanity”(People).
Journalist Steve Lopez discovered of Nathaniel Ayers, a former classical bass student at Julliard, playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles’s Skid Row. Deeply affected by the beauty of Ayers’s music, Lopez took it upon himself to change the prodigy’s life—only to find that their relationship would have a profound change on his own.”
Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets by Lars Eighner (1993)
4.2 out of 5 stars (97 ratings)
“When Travels with Lizbeth was first published in 1993, it was proclaimed an instant classic. Lars Eighner’s account of his descent into homelessness and his adventures on the streets has moved, charmed, and amused generations of readers. As Lars wrote, “When I began writing this account I was living under a shower curtain in a stand of bamboo in a public park. I did not undertake to write about homelessness, but wrote what I knew, as an artist paints a still life, not because he is especially fond of fruit, but because the subject is readily at hand.”
Containing the widely anthologized essay “On Dumpster Diving,” Travels with Lizbeth is a beautifully written account of one man’s experience of homelessness, a story of physical survival, and the triumph of the artistic spirit in the face of enormous adversity. In his unique voice―dry, disciplined, poignant, comic―Eighner celebrates the companionship of his dog, Lizbeth, and recounts their ongoing struggle to survive on the streets of Austin, Texas, and hitchhiking along the highways to Southern California and back.”
Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way by Jimmy Wayne (2015)
4.8 out of 5 stars (1895 ratings)
“Imagine yourself a thirteen-year-old hundreds of miles away from home, in a strange city, and your mom leaves you at a bus station parking lot and drives off into the night with her lover.
That’s the real life story of country music star Jimmy Wayne. It’s a miracle that Jimmy survived being hungry and homeless, bouncing in and out of the foster care system, and sleeping in the streets. But he didn’t just overcome great adversity in his life; he now uses his country music platform to help children everywhere, especially teenagers in foster care who are about to age out of the system.
Walk to Beautiful is the powerfully emotive account of Jimmy’s horrendous childhood and the love shown him by Russell and Bea Costner, the elderly couple who gave him a stable home and provided the chance to complete his education. Jimmy says of Bea, “She changed every cell in my body.”
It also chronicles Jimmy’s rise to fame in the music industry and his Meet Me Halfway campaign: his walk halfway across America, 1,700 miles from Nashville to Phoenix, to raise awareness for foster kids.
Join Jimmy on his walk to beautiful and see how one person really can make a difference.”
Welcome Homeless: One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home by Alan Graham with Lauren Hall (2017)
4.7 out of 5 stars (164 reviews)
“Welcome Homeless is about becoming fully human by being fully present. It is about finally connecting with the disconnected and finding our identity through knowing the true identity of others. Graham wants to engrain the human story in you so deeply that you start being who you were made to be—that you start finally being like the image from which you were made and start empathizing instead of sympathizing with the people around you. Similar to how we can become 100 percent fully human by mimicking the ultimate image, we can shape a better world by mimicking the picture of the new heaven and the new earth—a picture that has reality at the heart of it but is beyond our imagination. Alan Graham also shares his personal story, the stories of the homeless, and the stories of those whose worldviews have been shifted by the homeless. Because of his raw, humorous, and honest voice, he achieves a rare and profound universality. Houses become homes once they embody the stories of the people who have made these spaces into places of significance, meaning, and memory. Home is fundamentally a place of connection and of relationships that are life-giving and foundational. Graham invites you to make everyone feel truly at home by finally inviting those living on the fringes of society into your heart.”
A Final Word
We hope you enjoy this list of nonfiction books about homelessness. What you read in these books are true stories. Stories that are playing out in the lives of members of our community today who are also battling homelessness.
We hope these books move your heart and motivate you to want to do something to help the homeless locally. When you are ready, reach out to us and we’ll help you find the right volunteer opportunity.