Films, books and other media about homelessness and poverty

28 July 2022
Woman sitting outside and reading a book

Would you like to learn more about the reality of  homelessness and poverty, beyond the pure facts? We’ve got you covered! We’ve put together our top recommendations of movies, docos, TV shows and novels that will give you deeper insights into what it means to experience poverty and live without a home.

Films about homelessness and poverty

  • Some Happy Day – a film inspired by our St Kilda community (available on SBS on demand)
    To learn more about the role Sacred Heart Mission played in creating this movie, read our interview with writer and director Catherine Hill.
  • The Pursuit of Happyness – story about a single father in the USA determined to lift himself and his son out of poverty
    (available on Amazon Prime, GooglePlay, iTunes, Netflix and others)
  • The Glass Castle – based on a memoir by US writer Jeannette Walls, the film depicts her childhood in poverty and how her family responds to life’s challenges with resilience
    (available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes)
  • Angela’s Ashes – based on the memoir by Frank McCourt, it follows Frankie and his family as they experience and try to escape poverty in the slums of pre-war Limerick.
    (available on Apple TV and Amazon Prime)
  • Good Will Hunting – follows Will Hunting, a self-taught mathematical genius with a poor upbringing, as he navigates run ins with the law and a university professor who takes him under his wing with hopes of turning his life around.
    (available on Stan, Binge, Apple TV and others)
  • The Florida Project – 6-year-old Moonee and her ragtag group of friends enjoy a summer break filled with childhood wonder, possibility, and a sense of adventure while the adults around them, including Moonee’s single mother, struggle with living under the poverty line.
    (available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Google Play)
  • La Haine – Follows a day and night in the lives of three young men, from a poor immigrant neighborhood in the suburbs of Paris, after a riot.
    (available on SBS on demand and Amazon Prime)

TV shows about homelessness and poverty

  • Filthy, Rich and Homeless – a show following high-profile Australians as they swap their comfortable lives to discover what life is like for people without a home
    (three seasons available on SBS on demand)
  • You Can’t Ask That: Homeless – an episode of ABC’s TV Show ‘You can’t ask that’, asking people with a lived experience of homelessness uncomfortable questions about what it means to live in homelessness
    (available on ABC iView)
  • Maid – TV mini series about a young mother fleeing an abusive relationship and building a better future for her child
    (available on Netflix)
  • Could you survive on the breadline? – three prominent Australian celebrities, Jenny Leong, Julie Goodwin, and Caleb Bond, visit three different parts of New South Wales, where they discover firsthand what it is like for low-income Australians to live without secure and safe accommodation, proper heating, and adequate health care.
    (available on SBS on demand)
  • Shameless US – Set in Chicago, this comedy/drama series (spanning 11 seasons) follows the working-class Gallagher family and their various hijinks. With an unemployed dad who is affected by alcohol use and an absent mum, eldest daughter Fiona takes on raising her five siblings and everything else that comes her way.
    (available on Netflix, Binge and Google Play)

Documentaries about homelessness and poverty

  • Under Cover – follows ten Australian women over 50 who – faced with housing stress and aging – are determined to find a home of their own
    (the film will be premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2022)
  • Clean – Based on the biography “The Trauma-Cleaner”, this documentary tells the story of Sandra Pankhurst and her trauma cleaning business in Melbourne that supported many people including some of our clients to sustain their tenancies.
  • Picturing Home – filmed over three years in Sydney, the documentary tells the story of a woman experiencing long-term homelessness – and how a disposable camera changed her life for good
    (available on Vimeo)
  • Bastardy – the story of actor and activist Jack Charles, Bunurong and Wiradjuri man, and member of the Stolen Generations who co-founded Australia’s first indigenous theatre company and struggled with his identity later in life
    (available on iTunes, Prime Video, Vimeo and others)
  • Lead Me Home – real-life stories capturing the experience of several people without a home in the USA to break stereotypes around homelessness
    (available on Netflix)
  • Dark Days – a portrait of people experiencing homelessness who live in the underground tunnels of New York City, released in 2000
    (available on Kanopy)
  • The Pruitt-Igoe Myth – aims to inform the debate over public housing programs and challenge stigma around people living in poverty based on the example of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, built in the 1950s in Missouri, USA and demolished less than 30 years later
    (available on Kanopy and Vimeo)
  • The True Cost – Documents the negative effects of fast fashion and garment production, from pollution to the poverty experienced by low-wage garment workers in developing countries.
    (available on Amazon Prime)

Books about homelessness and Poverty

  • Where I slept, by Libby Angel – Set in 1990s Melbourne, our un-named narrator weaves a gripping Image of Melbourne’s bohemian scene through documenting the many place she sleeps, from boarding house and squats to friends couches and city parks.
  • So Close to Home, by Mick Cummins – So Close to Home is Social Worker, Cummins, Debut novel. A gritty and captivating novel exploring homelessness, power dynamics and the ties that bind.
  • Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton – Set in Brisbane in the early 80s, a boy grows up in public housing, violence and poverty. A heartbreaking yet joyous novel, based on the author’s own childhood.
  • In My Skin, by Kate Holden – memoir of someone who experienced addiction and sex work in the St Kilda area
  • Honeybee, by Craig Silvey – the story about overcoming trauma to find family and self-acceptance, narrated from the perspective of a teenager who identifies as Transgender
  • Matthew Flinders’ Cat, by Bryce Courtenay – novel about a former lawyer who experiences homelessness and his relationship with a boy with a troubled background, who bond over tales of captain Matthew Finders and his ship’s cat.
  • No Place Like Home, Repairing Australia’s Housing Crisis, by Peter Mares – the book creates a clear picture of Australia’s housing crisis and offers practical solutions, based on research, statistical data and personal interviews
  • Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell – published in 1933, this memoir exposes the poverty existing in the two prosperous cities.
  • The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls – tells a story of resilience and redemption in the face of poverty, based on Walls’ childhood in the USA (the book was adapted as a film in 2017)
  • The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn – uplifting, true story about a couple in Britain who lost their home and livelihood and embarked on a 630 miles journey by foot when one of them is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
  • Down and Out: Surviving the Homelessness Crisis, by Daniel Lavelle – an examination of homelessness, its significance, precursors and causes; based on the author’s lived experience.
  • Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt – a memoir following the early childhood of McCourt and his family’s experience of poverty in Brooklyn New York and Limerick Ireland.
  • Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart – set in Glasgow in the 1980s it follows young Shuggie, a social outcast, and his family’s experiences of poverty and hardship.
  • Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st century, by Jessica Bruder – a nonfiction book by American journalist Jessica Bruder documenting older Americans who adopted nomadic lifestyles, after the 2007 to 2009 great recession, as they live on the road and search for seasonal work.
  • The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions, by Jason Hickel – an in-depth examination of global inequality, dissecting official poverty statistics, and providing modern solutions.
  • Nickel and Dimed: On getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich – journalist Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover to investigate the impact of the 1996 welfare reform act on workers earning poverty level wages in America.

Send us your recommendations

Do you know another film or book that touched you and inspired you to learn more about homelessness or poverty? Then send us your recommendation:

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