A Documentary and Reference Guide
by Neil Larry Shumsky
January 2012, 389pp, 8 1/2x11
1 volume, Greenwood

Hardcover: 978-0-313-37700-6
$121, £94, 106€, A166
eBook Available: 978-0-313-37701-3
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

There is no good estimate of the number of homeless people in the United States. Not only do homeless individuals rarely have permanent addresses, making a census estimate difficult, but they also generally avoid contact with other people. Additionally, there is no agreed-upon definition of “homeless,” making the size of this population—and the extent of our problem—even harder to gauge.

This book presents an unflinching investigation of homelessness in the United States—a problem that has been with us since the arrival of the first English settlers nearly 400 years ago.

The terms historically used to describe them include “bums,” “hoboes,” “migrants,” “street people,” “transients,” “tramps,” and “vagrants.” Just as varied as the words we have used to describe them are the reasons many people have found themselves living in the land of opportunity without permanent residence.

The book considers homelessness and its distinctive character in three periods of American history: the era of tramps and hoboes in the late 1800s–early 1900s, the era of transients and migrants in the 1930s, and the era of homeless and “street” people in the last 40 years. It clarifies the multiple meanings of the word “homeless” today and demonstrates that homelessness is a symptom of more than one problem, leading to confusion about the issue of homelessness and hampering attempts to reduce its occurrence. Author Neil Larry Shumsky, PhD, also postulates that the treatment of homelessness in England before the colonization of North America laid the foundation of pervasive American attitudes and practices.


  • Primary documents, including government reports, selections from novels, historical photographs, personal reminiscences, and more
  • Dozens of illustrative photographs
  • Subject-specific bibliographies
  • A guide to relevant reference materials
Neil Larry Shumsky, PhD, teaches history at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA. He has been a member of the history department at Virginia Tech since 1972. He earned his doctoral degree at the University of California, Berkeley, CA, where he emphasized American social history in general and the history of American cities and the history of immigration to the United States in particular. Shumsky has published numerous books and articles regarding both urban history and immigration history.


"As stated in the subtitle of this one-volume work, the user is provided with a thorough, yet concise documentary and reference guide dealing with the phenomenon of homelessness. . . . This works is highly recommended for university level collections, especially within the social work discipline."—ARBA, January 1, 2013

"Overall this volume is a very well-documented history of homelessness. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice, July 1, 2012

Documentary and Reference Guides

Expertly chosen primary source documents, analytical commentary, and comprehensive study resources present Americans grappling directly with complex social and political issues in ways that have had a deep and lasting impact on contemporary society.

Students often are unaware that hotly contested public debates have deep historical roots. Intended to allow readers to engage with history and discover the development of controversial social and political issues over time, the Documentary and Reference Guides series introduces such issues through carefully chosen primary source documents.

The documents analyzed in these volumes encourage critical thinking, offering fresh perspectives as they sweep away preconceptions and restore immediacy to debates that may have become stale. They encourage students to explore for themselves how important issues came to be framed as they are and to consider how contemporary discussion might advance beyond the assumptions and hardened positions of the past.


  • 50–100 primary source documents, topically and chronologically organized, including excerpts from legislation, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, manifestos, broadcast statements, such controversial writings as Thomas Paine's pamphlets and excerpts from the Federalist Papers, and personal writings, such as letters
  • 15–25 photographs
  • Accessible analysis sections and lively sidebars illuminating documents that are crucial to the subject, but relatively legalistic or technical
  • A Reader's Guide to the Documents and Sidebars, organized by subject, to enable readers to pursue particular lines of inquiry through more than one chapter
  • A comprehensive, annotated, general resources section supporting student research needs
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