Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Do Homeless People Read Books?

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

That quip by Groucho Marx is from the WebSite of a marvelous organization—Footpath Library—in Australia.

I love dogs (it’s even my Chinese Zodiac sign) and due to my perverse habit of not conforming to most of society’s expectations I’ve often been homeless.

Hard to have a dog when your homeless (though it does happen) so I find more than humor in Mr. Marx’s joke

Back to Footpath Library:

“After the death of her young friend, Benjamin Andrew, in 2003, Sarah Garnett decided to make herself useful by working as a volunteer. She started helping serve meals to homeless and disadvantaged people in Sydney’s central business district.

“One evening, Sarah noticed a man sitting under a streetlight reading a novel while waiting for the food van. She started bringing him a few books and it was through this that The Benjamin Andrew Footpath Library began.”

The kinds of books they accept as donations is particularly interesting:

“While we really appreciate donations, please note that books must be in excellent condition. We consider the books gifts for our customers and are aiming for the highest quality possible. Think of the kind of book you’d buy for your best friend or your mother. That is, brand new from a bookshop and so delicious you can barely wait to crack the spine; something someone would be excited to receive and unwrap as a present.”

When I was homeless, any book was welcome so Footpath’s standards are remarkable

After checking out Footpath, I put “books for the homeless” into Google and immediately found:

Street Books, “a bicycle-powered mobile library, serving people who live outside”, run by Laura Moulton and Sue Zalokar.

Then, I found Sheltering Books, Inc.:

“Sheltering Books, Inc. is a non profit 501 (c)(3)  charity started by Mackenzie of Alpharetta Georgia.  Sheltering Books provides adult and childrens books for homeless sheters across the USA.

“Mackenzie was only 13 years old when she began collection children’s books for shelters and her book drive quickly took off.  Today she has collected and donated over 149,000 books to shelters across the US.”

Then, I discovered a story at Booklist Online about a successful lawyer, Peter, who gave a book to a homeless man who gave it to another homeless man which led to the lawyer finding a place for them to meet—a homeless book club:

“They are meeting regularly in a church conference room to talk about books — ‘After all,  just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you can’t read’, one of the group remarked.  The group members refuse to let Peter provide refreshments for them.  They want to make it clear they aren’t doing this just to get a free meal.”

I’m sure, if I’d continued to check out the Google page, I’d have found additional stories of the more advantaged helping the less advantaged partake in literary feasts

Have you ever been homeless?

Have you ever given a book to a homeless person?

What kinds of books do you think they like to read?

Ever wondered what the median I.Q. of homeless people is?

The times I was homeless, I did meet severely undereducated folk but there were plenty of people who read novels regularly, some who read science and other technical books, too

One last thought:

The homeless do use libraries (some for sleeping) but, without a home address and other identification, they can’t borrow the books

So, it’s no joke that a book, outside of a dog, can be a person’s best friend………
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7 responses to “Do Homeless People Read Books?

  1. jakedp March 13, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Having been homeless several times I find the homeless are the some of the most avid readers and these readers are well learned. Some of my best reading has been when homeless where a good book was by best friend and food for a weary soul.


  2. Alexander M Zoltai March 13, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I especially resonate with your words, “…food for a weary soul.”


  3. Jane Watson March 14, 2013 at 5:23 am

    We have a monthly magazine here in Australia called ‘The Big Issue’ which publishes quality articles and fiction. It is sold by over 500 homeless vendors Australia wide. Each vendor has their own ‘beat’ and they retain $3 for each $6 magazine they sell. Not a book as such but a really good read and most writers here would be overjoyed to be published in such a fine literary mag. But this comment is really about dogs. My local vendor sells his copies outside our main literary book chain. He reads each edition from cover to cover and points out stuff in it I would like to read. He waits on a bench outside the book store to grab his customers and to converse with them about books. And the dog? Her name is Molly, I think she reads too…she sits with him everyday and greets every customer…


  4. Alexander M Zoltai March 14, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I surely wish I could meet Molly

    And, here’s a link for The Big Issue.


  5. penpusherpen March 18, 2013 at 7:02 am

    I’ve never been homeless Alexander, but I do read and thoroughly enjoy most books, I would think the only difference between a homeless persons reading choice and mine is the ability of access. The charity you mention above sounds a fantastic idea, and we have Big Issue sellers here too in Britain…I give when I can, and I donate some of my thumbed books to a charity shop…(I keep most books for reading again, as a story can become like an old friend, to be revisited and enjoyed again…) … xPenx


  6. Alexander M Zoltai March 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm


    Yes, the main difference between a homeless Reader and you is access—yet, the other stresses on the homeless introduce factors that may make them even more appreciative of the books they do have access to :-)

    And, I completely resonate to books as “old friends”


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