Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America

Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America

4.8 4
by Jonathan Kozol

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"Extraordinarily affecting....A very important book....To read and remember the stories in this book, to take them to heart, is to be called as a witness."
There is no safety net for the millions of heartbroken refugees from the American Dream, scattered helplessly in any city you can name. RACHEL AND HER CHILDREN is an unforgettable record for… See more details below


"Extraordinarily affecting....A very important book....To read and remember the stories in this book, to take them to heart, is to be called as a witness."
There is no safety net for the millions of heartbroken refugees from the American Dream, scattered helplessly in any city you can name. RACHEL AND HER CHILDREN is an unforgettable record for humanity, of the desperate voices of the men, women, and especially children, and their hourly struggle for survival, homeless in America.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Anna Quindlen
This book is passionate and often unbearably moving. It is also sometimes dull, incomplete and rhetorical. It is painfully uneven. . . . Mr. Kozol has his whole heart in it. I wish it was enough. Assembled just right, the factual underpinnings interspersed in judicious and selective amounts with the stories, the people more in evidence, the author less so, this could have been a book which not only preached to the converted, but converted the hard of heart. It probably will not do that, and that is a shame. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To write this ``jolting firsthand report,'' Kozol spent months among the homeless, whose depressing stories, interwoven with his commentaries, tell of infant deaths, malnutrition, hunger, loss of dignity and desperation. ``This powerful volume,'' PW maintained, `` forces one to ask: `What are our national priorities?' '' Author tour. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Here are the less visible homelesswomen and children living in shelters and hotels under degrading conditions. Kozol, known for his books on education, introduces us to some of those at the bottom of America's underclass, the residents of a hotel for the homeless in New York, which can only be described as a house of horrors. Kozol faults everyone involved: governments, social agencies, landlords, the courts, and indifferent Americans in general for permitting the perpetuation of the shocking conditions endured by homeless families. This book could be the incentive needed to spark humane solutions. Highly recommended. BOMC selection. Anne Twitchell, EPA Headquarters Lib., Washington, D.C.
School Library Journal
YA A horrifying, staggering book about the homeless in this country as specifically exemplified by those who are housed in the Martinique Hotel in New York. Through direct, simply stat ed interviews with several families in the Martinique over a period of time, Kozol systematically strips away the stereotypic litany of what is wrong with welfare recipients (too lazy to work, etc.). He shows repeated case histories of people held captive by a welfare sys tem that would rather pay the private sector $1,900 a month to house them in squalor than give them perhaps a third of that amount for apartment rent and a chance to gain back their self-respect. There is much about this book that is not only infuriating but also uncomfort able; many of these people have previ ously been educated, productive citi zens who have endured several life crises and lost everything. The true heart of this book, however, rests on two pointsthe lack of affordable housing for the poor and, most tragical ly, the children who will become adults with little education, poor health, no marketable skills, and mental and emo tional scars from spending a childhood under these conditions. Kozol's writing is clear and reads easily due to his stark, unembellished style. It is always the people who shine through; they are a testament to the human spirit. It is impossible to read this book and remain untouched. Barbara Weathers, Du chesne Academy, Houston
From the Publisher

“Kozol, today’s most eloquent spokesman for America’s disenfranchised, won a National Book Award for Death at an Early Age, and this new work is every bit as powerful. Reading it is a revelation…A searing trip into the heart of homelessness.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“A searing indictment of a society that has largely chosen to look the other way...One would need a heart of stone not to be moved.” —New York Times

“Jonathan’s struggle is noble. What he says must be heard. His outcry must shake our nation out of its guilty indifference.” —Elie Wiesel

“Among the many virtues of Jonathan Kozol’s strong and often beautiful books is that we cannot forget for even an instant that the poor are our own kind and live but a moment away.” —The Nation

“I haven’t experienced the same kind of shock over a book since the first time I read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.” —Chicago Tribune

“At a time when Americans are struggling to see through the political, racial, and economic walls that separate them, Jonathan Kozol comes along with a window. Like an Old Testament patriarch, he rages at what he calls the greed and ‘theological evil’ of our time.” —USA Today

“Extraordinarily affecting…A very important book. To read and remember the stories in this book, to take them to heart, is to be called as a witness.” –The Boston Globe

“A book that should be read by every middle class (and any class) American…pulls us, willingly or not, straight into the heart of what it means to be a homeless family in America.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Bitterly eloquent.” –Newsweek

“Compelling, moving, eloquent…An extended tour of Hell.” –Los Angeles Times

“Gripping desperate stories of more than a dozen families and their children…Kozol bears witness to their suffering and to the inhumanity of the system created to help them.” –The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

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Ordinary People
   He was a carpenter. She was a woman many people nowadays would call old-fashioned. She kept house and cared for their five children while he did construction work in New York City housing projects. Their home was an apartment in arrow of neat brick buildings. She was very pretty then, and even now, worn down by months of suffering, she has a lovely, wistful look. She wears blue jeans, a yellow jersey, and a bright red ribbon in her hair—“for luck,” she says. But luck has not been with this family for some time. 
   They were a happy and chaotic family then. He was proud of his acquired skills. “I did carpentry. I painted. I could do wallpapering. I earned a living. We spent Sundays walking with our children at the beach.” They lived near Coney Island. That is where this story will begin. 
   “We were at the boardwalk. We were up some. We had been at Nathan’s. We were eating hot dogs.” 
   He’s cheerful when he recollects that afternoon. The children have long, unruly hair. They range in age from two to ten. They crawl all over him—exuberant and wild. 
   Peter says that they were wearing summer clothes: “Shorts and sneakers. Everybody was in shorts.” 
   When they were told about the fire, they grabbed the children and ran home. Everything they owned had been destroyed. 
   “My grandmother’s china,” she says. “Everything.” She adds: “I had that book of gourmet cooking…”
   What did the children lose?
   “My doggy,” says one child. Her kitten, born three days before, had also died. 
   Peter has not had a real job since. “Not since the fire. I had tools. I can’t replace those tools. It took me years of work.” He explains he had accumulated tools for different jobs, one tool at a time. Each job would enable him to add another tool to his    They had never turned to welfare in the twelve years since they’d met and married. A social worker helped to place them in a homeless shelter called the Martinique Hotel. When we meet, Peter is thirty. Megan is twenty-eight. They have been in this hotel two years. 
   She explains why they cannot get out: “Welfare tells you how much you can spend for an apartment. The limit for our family is $366. You’re from Boston. Try to find a place for seven people for $366 in New York City. You can’t do it. I’ve been looking for two years.”
   The city pays $3,000 monthly for the two connected rooms in which they live. She shows me the bathroom. Crumbling walls. Broken tiles. The toilet doesn’t work. There is a pan to catch something that’s dripping from the plaster. The smell is overpowering. 
   “I don’t see any way out,” he says. “I want to go home. Where can I go?”
   A year later I’m in New York. In front of a Park Avenue hotel. I’m facing two panhandlers. It takes a moment before I can recall their names. 
   They look quite different now. The panic I saw in them a year ago is gone. All five children have been taken from them. Having nothing left to lose has drained them of their desperation. 
   The children have been scattered—placed in various foster homes. “White children,” Peter says, “are in demand by the adoption agencies.” 
   Standing here before a beautiful hotel as evening settles in over New York, I’m reminded of the time before the fire when they had their children and she had her cookbooks and their children had a dog and cat. I remember the words that Peter used: “We were up some. We had been at Nathan’s.” Although I am not a New Yorker, I know by now what Nathan’s is: a glorified hot-dog stand. The other phrase has never left my mind. 
   Peter laughs. “Up some?” 
   The laughter stops. Beneath his street-wise manner he is not a hardened man at all. “It means,” he says, “that we were happy.” 
   By the time these words are printed there will be almost 500,000 homeless children in America. If all of them were gathered in one city, they would represent a larger population than that of Atlanta, Denver, or St. Louis. Because they are scattered in a thousand cities, they are easily unseen. And because so many die in infancy or lose the strength to struggle and prevail in early years, some will never live to tell their stories. 
   Not all homeless children will be lost to early death or taken from their parents by the state. Some of their parents will do better than Peter and Megan. Some will be able to keep their children, their stability, their sense of worth. Some will get back their vanished dreams. A few will find jobs again and some may even find a home they can afford. Many will not. 
   Why are so many people homeless in our nation? What has driven them to the streets? What hope have they to reconstruct their former lives?

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