SONGS FROM THE ALLEY by Kathleen Hirsch


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The separate stories of two young suburban women who ended up homeless in Boston--interwoven with a history of poverty and aid programs in the US, an account of attempts to combat homelessness in Boston today, and the author's reflections on community. All of it adds up to a surprisingly staid, sometimes confusing, but still important book. Hirsch, a Boston journalist, argues convincingly that the problem of homelessness has deeper roots than the simple lack of affordable, decent housing. She finds it symptomatic of the impoverishment of American culture--whether in ghettoes or in glistening shore towns--and of a deterioration of family and community life that leads to isolation, child abuse, abandonment, and neglect with consequent emotional disorders and substance abuse. Hirsch's two protagonists, Wendy and Amanda, who were both homeless by age 30, effectively demonstrate her thesis; however, because of many similarities in their lives, their stories often blur together as the narrative jumps between them and historical material. Sad and interesting: Amanda (in a shelter) and Wendy (on the streets) find--for the first time--a sense of community and identity among the homeless. Hirsch's detailed information about Boston's response to their plight shows shocking inadequacies in support services and drug treatment, especially for women. A deeply felt, convincing argument that we, as a society, are in even more trouble than we realized, and that housing alone won't solve the problem of homelessness.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1989
ISBN: 89919-488-5
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
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