Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in Americaby Jonathan Kozol
THE BOSTON GLOBE
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
"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
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.
“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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Read an Excerpt
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?
Meet the Author
Jonathan Kozol is the National Book Award–winning author of Death at an Early Age, Savage Inequalities, Amazing Grace, and The Shame of the Nation. He has been working with children in inner-city schools for more than 40 years.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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I read this book for a senior psychology project and was blown away. Jonathan Kozol writes from the heart and his story of the year he spent in the 1980s traveling through the hardest hit cities of America focusing on the homeless is heartwrenching. To all who think welfare recipients are "lazy, worthless, and good for nothing," just read this book. You will learn that many single mothers living in the notorious Martinique Hotel in New York (hotel shelter)want to move out to their own residences but exboritant housing costs even in the 1980s make this impossible. Instead, the city chooses to pay $1,900.00 per month to house a family of four in the Martinique, a horror hotel shelter, rather that put this money toward helping the family become self-sufficient and get off welfare. Jonathan Kozol has spent many years working within the inner city sector and understands these types of catch-22 situations and maddening red tape that federal aid recipients contend with. If you have a heart, you will enjoy this book.
As Jonathan Kozol travels around homeless hotels, such as the Martinique, he sees and hears people¿s heart wrenching situations. In this riveting book, not only is the reader confronted with the exact words of some desperate families, but also with staggering statistics about homelessness in New York and throughout the country. This book presents facts about how people become homeless, their situations and struggles, and the lack of government involvement in improving low-income housing. Kozol¿s personal accounts of being with these families and the incomprehensible state in which they are all living, stir the emotions and compassion of readers. Although this book presents astounding information and stories, Kozol neglects to mention any of the other reasons, besides lack of housing, that so many people end up in poverty and remain living under the poverty level. Rachel and Her Children combines emotion and knowledge into an informative book that could easily spring people into action to help the homeless. It adequately mixes raw facts and stories of life in poverty. Even with this book¿s few flaws, it is incredible, moving, and informative.
I read this book many years ago and it still affects my thinking about how the poor in America are treated as well as the wasteful way the government pretends to help them. Anyone that reads this should be protesting how the government spends their tax dollars.
As a social work student, in none of my classes have I ever heard the truth in the very honest way Kozol writes and describes it. We have to do someting to make people concious of the realities of our system and that poverty is not a matter of luck (or bad luck), but is a product of the system we live in, stop trying to cover it up with patches of "charity" and start working towards REAL Public policy that will deal with the roots of the problem, not just the symptoms of it. READ IT! I hope you end up as outraged as I am and do something about it!