Suggested Reading and Films

Books

In the Realm of the Hungry Ghost: Close Encounters with Addiction
by Gabor Mate M.D.

Based on the author’s two decades of experience as a medical doctor and his work with the severely addicted on Vancouver’s skid row, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts discusses this misunderstood field by positing that addiction is not a discrete phenomenon confined to an unfortunate or weak-willed few. Rather, it is a continuum that runs throughout our society, and results from a complex combination of personal history, emotional and neurological development, brain chemistry, and the drugs (and behaviors) of addiction. Simplifying a variety of worldwide brain and addiction research findings, the book presents that a thorough and compassionate self-understanding is the first key to healing and wellness. The mix of personal stories—including accounts of the author’s own “high-status” addictive tendencies—and science with positive solutions makes the book equally useful for the average reader, as well as professionals.

You Owe Yourself a Drunk
by James P. Spradley

This book is an account of the experiences of men who are repeatedly arrested for public drunkenness, challenging the idea that these men are simply rejects from society who cannot organize their behavior by cultural traditions. Using the recently discovered methods of formal ethnographic analysis, the author presents this urban sub-culture as it relates to law enforcement agencies. Life in one jail is described in detail, showing how it changes the men’s personal identities, teaching them the skills of this sub-culture and motivating them to adopt a nomadic way of life where drinking is a great social value.

Street Crazy: America’s Mental Health Tragedy
by Stephen Seager, MD

This book recounts one psychiatrist’s experience with the mentally ill, who have often become homeless because of their disease. Using clear, straight-forward language, the author explains brain disease, tells the often disturbing history of the mentally ill, and shows how, through a series of well-meaning legal mishaps, our most vulnerable citizens have been abandoned to the streets. By following Dr. Seager as he unravels the mystery behind John Doe, a sick young man brought to the hospital by the police, the reader will come to understand the degradation and suffering of the chronically mentally ill and their families, as well as the frustration and confusion experienced by those most intimately involved with caring for the homeless mentally ill. Finally, the author suggests some real action that we, as U.S. citizens, can take to solve this morally untenable but seemingly insurmountable dilemma.

Shelter: Where Harvard Meets the Homeless
by Scott Seider

Written by Scott Seider, Assistant Professor of Education at Boston University, this book focuses on the powerful interactions between Harvard students and the homeless inside Harvard Square Homeless Shelter- the only student-run homeless shelter in the United States.

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity
by Ronald Sider

This book, now over 30 years old and now in its fifth edition, is still a great read for anyone who wants to learn about poverty as a massive worldwide problem. The newest revised edition of this best-selling book outlines the progress that has been made in the last three decades, and the word that is still left to do. The author also discusses poverty as a religious or spiritual concern, presenting the grim facts and complex causes of the issue today, and demonstrating how concern for the poor is at the heart of faithfulness and justice.

Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together
by Ron Hall

This book tells the story of Denver, a man raised under plantation-style slavery in Louisiana in the 1960s. He later escapes by hopping a train to wander, homeless, for eighteen years on the streets of Dallas. While still penniless and Bitter, Denver meets a woman who prays with him, listens, and feels the call to action. She and her husband, an international art dealer who is used to doing business with millionaires, form a bond with Denver that allows all three to discover different forms of slavery and compassionate salvation.

What Difference Does it Make
by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent

Those who enjoyed Same Kind of Different as Me will find further inspiration and joy in this book, comprised of all-new, stand-alone true stories of hope and healing. This intimate follow-up offers new Denverisms and reflections on his personal dealings with homelessness and disrespect from others, additional insights from Ron on what we can learn from people not like us and from those dealing with a terminal illness, and the stories of readers who have been impacted by the book’s central themes.

Not Just the Levees Broke
by Phyllis Montana-Leblanc

This nonfiction memoir is told as a first-person account of life in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Explaining the resulting widespread homelessness, the author truthfully presents what happened moment-by-moment as she and her husband lived through one of the nation’s worst disasters, as well as the hellish post-hurricane weeks. This book begs the question- what would you do in a life-and-death situation with your family and neighbors facing the ultimate test of character? Not Just the Levees Broke is a portrayal of the human spirit at its best- the generosity of family, neighbors, and strangers, and the power of love to help and heal others.

Books for Kids

Hear These Voices– for ages 12+
by Anthony Allison

This enganging work presents case studies of teenagers aged 10 to 19 living with alcoholism, prostitution, homelessness, and neighborhood violence. In this forum, youths are finally able to represent themselves. The stories vividly depict the pain experienced by these youths, especially as complemented by the author’s telling black-and-white photograph. Allison makes sure, however, that readers come away with a strong sense of hope. All of the teens have been helped by various social-service groups or schools– small, struggling organizations staffed with remarkable adults who refuse to let troubled kids slip through society’s cracks. This book will alternately shock and raise any teenager’s spirits, but may also inspire adults to contribute more to the community of young people.

Found– for ages 10-12
by June Oldham

Left to fend for herself in a deserted, 21st-century countryside, Ren joins forces with three other teens to save an abandoned baby, as well as herself, in this epic adventure about finding one’s place in the world. The haunting strangeness of the setting, the power of Oldham’s language and imagery, and the emotional closeness of the characters’ situation help to relate the importance of friendship and community, at a time when survival is most difficult amidst a seemingly-chaotic society.

Asphalt Angels– for ages 13+
by Ineka Holtwijk

When 13 year old Alex is kicked out of the house by his abusive stepfather after his mother’s death, he decides to make his home on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, where he must survive confrontations with corrupt police officers, pedophiles, and fellow homeless persons. For protection, he joins a street gang, the Asphalt Angles, but instead of getting help, he finds himself being sucked into pickpocketing, robbery, and drug running. Holtwijk, a journalist from the Netherlands, avoids overwriting, maintains objectivity, and does a good job of capturing the boredom of everyday street life.

Planet of Jr. Brown– for ages 13+
by Virginia Hamilton.
Buddy Clark, a loner who lives by lives by his wits because he has no family, has been skipping his 8th grade classes with Junior Brown. Buddy, already a leader in New York’s underground world of homeless children, takes on the responsibility of protecting Junior, a 300 pound musical prodigy with a neurotic, overprotective mother.

Begging for Change– for ages 9-12
by Sharon Flake

This eye-opening book presents of troubling view of our youth living in the darkest alleyways of the inner city. A glimmer of hope only shines when we realize that nothing good comes from bad money, though good people can still experience positive change.

Runaway– for ages 12-15
by Van Draanen, Wendelin.

This book tells the story of Holly over the five long months she encounters homelessness and being out on her own. An urban, female version of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (Macmillan, 1986), Holly experiences the daily struggle for food, shelter, safety, and cleanliness that becomes the focus of life once a home and income are stripped away. Twelve-year-old Holly knows a lot about living on the streets, since she lived that life with her drug-addicted mother before the woman died from an overdose, and she has decided that this situation is better than living in her abusive foster home. She records her lonely and difficult struggle for survival in a journal that her teacher provides, and readers will be enthralled by the gripping details of both physical and emotional landmines hidden in the ordinariness of everyday life.

Films

Baraka (1992)
Ron Fricke (director)

Shot in 24 countries on 70mm film, this mesmerizing visual study conveys the relationship between humans and the environment, with images ranging from the daily devotions of Tibetan monks to time-lapse views of the Hong Kong skyline. Accompanied by diverse world music — without narration or dialogue — the scenes capture nature’s glory as well as its destruction, all expertly photographed by director and cinematographer Ron Fricke.  It is a mesmerizing look at the earth as we currently know it. It definitely emphasizes the “big picture.” Per the director’s commentary, his intent was to be how humans connect with the eternal. Given that it has no dialogue, it allows the viewer to make their own decisions as to what the film is about.

The Saint of Fort Washington (1993)
Tim Hunter (director)

Matthew, a young schizophrenic, finds himself out on the street when a slumlord tears down his apartment building. Soon, he finds himself in even more dire straits when he is threatened by Little Leroy, a thug who also works for the Fort Washington Shelter for Men. He reaches out to Jerry, a streetwise combat veteran, who takes Matthew under his wing as a son. The relationship between these two men grows as they attempt to conquer the numbing isolation of homelessness. There aren’t many movies that depict the inside of a homeless overnight shelter, and this film also appropriately portrays the frustrating nature of homelessness and the complex emotions that chronically homeless individuals deal with.

The Soloist- for ages 12-15
Joe Wright (Director)
based upon book by Steve Lopez

In 2005, the only thing hurting Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez more than his face from a recent bike accident was his pressing need for story ideas. That is when he discovers Nathaniel Ayers, a mentally ill, homeless street musician who possesses extraordinary talent, even through his half-broken instruments. Inspired by his story, Lopez writes an acclaimed series of articles about Ayers and attempts to do more to help both him and the rest of the underclass of LA have a better life. However, Lopez’s good intentions run headlong in the hard realities of the strength of Ayers’ personal demons and the larger social injustices facing the homeless. Lopez and Ayers must find a way to conquer their deepest anxieties and frustrations to hope for a brighter future for both of them.

In Pursuit of Happyness- for ages 12-15
Gabriele Muccino (Director)

Chris Gardner is a bright and talented, but marginally employed salesman. Struggling to make ends meet, Gardner finds himself and his five-year-old son evicted from their San Francisco apartment with nowhere to go. When Gardner lands an internship at a prestigious stock brokerage firm, he and his son endure many hardships, including living in shelters, in pursuit of a dream of a better life for the two of them.

For more suggested films to watch, check out our IMDB watch list.

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