Summer Reading List

With the number of people falling into homelessness on the rise, NIMBYs thwarting attempts to build bridge and affordable housing, and misconceptions and misinformation being spouted out carelessly, we can make a concerted effort to combat these problems by challenging our own perception, educating ourselves, and increasing our understanding of the issues and our homeless neighbors.

Through the recommendations of our staff and trends in the industry, we’ve put together a list of books that can provide you some conversation material for your next dinner party. Through education, dialogue, and compassion, we can start to shift the narrative on who our homeless neighbors are and work together toward solutions that we know work.

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1. Evicted by matthew desmond

 Why it’s a good read:

This was overwhelmingly the number one book suggested among LA Family Housing staff and others within the nonprofit sector. Matthew Desmond shows the challenges that many families face when trying to pay rent in America, through the experiences of eight families in Milwaukee. With 1/3 of Los Angeles spending more than 50% of their household income on rent, the stories Desmond weaves throughout the book are very applicable to the experiences of thousands of Angelenos today.

What our staff said:

“I was really struck in this book how often people had to make the choice between going to work (keep their employment) and going to eviction court (keep their home). The stories are about people that most of us can relate to or understand their circumstances. I learned a lot about maintaining housing and how the struggle to keep where you live can be just as hard if not harder than finding it.” – Lizzy Tooke, Project Manager, Real Estate

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2. Rachel and Her Children by Jonathan Kozol

 Why it’s a good read:

Although written in 1988, this book by Jonathan Kozol is sadly still relevant today. Rachel and Her Children gives voice to the men, women, and children living in New York’s Martinique Hotel, painting a horrific picture of the reasons they first ended up there and the barriers they face to pull themselves out. While the time and location are different, the experiences, struggles, and trauma are the same as those that many of our homeless neighbors still face today. Read a review from the LA Times.  

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 3. Tell Them Who I Am by Elliot Leibow

Why it’s a good read:

Elliot Leibow dismantles the myth that people experiencing homelessness are lazy and don’t want to change their situation, following women living in interim housing in Washington D.C. and presenting the obstacles they face each and every day. 

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 4. Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois

Why it’s a good read:

Righteous Dopefiend, written by UCSF Professor of Anthropology Philippe Bourgois, is a gritty, in-the-dirt look at the life of heroin addicts in San Francisco. It doesn’t sugar coat life on the streets, but does give a complete 360 view of the lives of the individuals it follows, including childhood trauma, mental illness, family separation, and every aspect that has led them to where they are today. And what conclusions does the book make clear? That getting clean and ending homelessness in their lives for good is only possible with a safe place to live and the supportive services needed to address the traumas that contributed to their homelessness in the first place. Read a review from SFGate.

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5. Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

Why it’s a good read:

For those interested in housing policy, Color of Law dives into the local, state, and federal laws and policies that promote discriminatory practices that have lasting effects to this day. In a time where minorities are significantly overrepresented in our homeless population, this book can help us understand why. Listen to an interview with the author on NPR.

What our staff said:

The Color of Law opened my eyes to how racial segregation in American housing was not just an outcome of public prejudice and preference, but was actually planned by housing policy that the government created.” – Jo-Anne Cohen, Director of Asset Management

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 6. There There by Tommy Orange

 Why it’s a good read:

There There by Tommy Orange, derives its title from Gertrude Stein, who upon seeing that her childhood home had vanished, remarked: “There is no there there.” The book tells the stories of “urban indians” – Native Americans – living in Oakland and explores the complex questions of identity. The themes that run throughout the book of addiction, poverty, and home can give insight into what many of our participants experience.

What our staff said:

“There are themes about not having a home, and losing your identity in a big city. The stories about drug addiction and homelessness parallel what a lot of our participants go through.” – Andres, Programs Coordinator

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 7. Better Must Come by matthew marr

Why it’s a good read:

Better Must Come follows the lives of 34 people in Los Angeles and Tokyo who utilized transitional housing programs and their lives after they exited the programs. Marr pushed back against the idea that homelessness is an identity or culture, but rather should be viewed as a traumatic and stigmatizing predicament and calls for not only the expansion of our housing supply, but also for measures to address the roots of homelessness such as the deterioration of social safety nets, and faults within the labor and housing market.

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8. The Soloist by steve lopez

Why it’s a good read:

Many might be familiar with the drama film starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Junior, but the book on which it is based is well worth a read. The Soloist is written by LA Times journalist and homeless advocate Steve Lopez, in which he chronicles his relationship with Nathaniel Ayers, a former classical bass student at Julliard, who after struggling with schizophrenia, ended up on Skid Row. The story is a beautiful tale that ties humanity back in with the journey to treat mental illness and search for a home.

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 9. Struggle in Paradise

 Why it’s a good read:

Struggle in Paradise is also based in LA and offers touching narratives of our homeless neighbors paired with beautiful portraits. The author, Stuart Perlman says, ““These were some of the most interesting people I had ever met – loving, kind, accomplished individuals who had experienced deep traumas and misfortunes. I painted the life experiences that were etched on their faces. I use thick paint and my fingers to sculpt an intensely colorful representation of their life, pain, hopes and soul. In this book, ‘Struggling in Paradise’, are 35 oil-on-canvas portraits and some photos of where they live– each with a gripping biography chronicling their life stories as well as a narrative of my experience painting the forgotten and entering their world.”

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10. In the realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate

Why it’s a good read:

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts challenges current health, social, and criminal justice thinking toward addiction, viewing it as a complex issue, affected by not only brain chemistry, but also personal history, emotional trauma, and the drugs themselves. Gabor Maté pulls from his decades of experience as a medical doctor and work on Vancouver’s skid row to bring us a look into the treatment of trauma and addiction.

What our staff said:

“Gabor Mate is a guru in addiction treatment. It’s an amazing insightful view into trauma and addiction.” – Alynn Gausvik, Sr. Director of Engagement

Not everyone has the time (or interest) to sit down and crack open a book, so if a podcast is more of your style, we’ve got you covered with two options to enlighten your daily commute.


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Ear Hustle

This is a podcast that is produced by Bay Area visual artist Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods, formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. The podcast looks at the prison system through the lives of those involved in it. Some episodes look at circumstances that led individuals to end up in prison, while others explore life inside. Yet others focus on the challenges former inmates face once they’ve been released—including not having a place to call home. Difficult, honest, and often funny, Ear Hustle provides a nuanced view of our Prison System, inside and out.

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Somebody Somewhere

Season 2 of this true crime Podcast looks into the investigation of a double homicide that took place in The Jungle, a large homeless encampment in Seattle. Somebody Somewhere talks about the politics surrounding the case, the type of media attention it garnered based on the victims being homeless, and how prosecutors did or didn’t take seriously the accounts of the victims or witnesses because of who they were.

Gimme Shelter

Why is it so expensive to live in California? And what can the state do about it? CALmatters’ data and housing reporter Matt Levin and Los Angeles Times housing reporter Liam Dillon chat about the latest developments in California housing policy and interview a key housing newsmaker.

Have you read a book on this list or do you know of one we forgot? Let us know in the comments below!