Arts Review: The Homeless Library

St Alywn Building, 6th October

Narratives of homelessness so often emerge from an external perspective – the ‘normal’ members of society either condemning the persistence of homelessness or the homeless people themselves. As part of the Outside-In/ Inside-Out Festival, The Homeless Library aims to take a new direction, by striking forth with the first shared history of homelessness in Britain, written, created and designed by the homeless people. The first-person histories tell the diverse and complex stories that drive people to live on the streets, voluntarily or not.

The Manchester-based project places the homeless at the heart of the construction of their own stories in a revolutionary way. Collaborative art pieces that make use of second-hand books explore views on addiction, religion, philosophy and politics. The personal stories written by the homeless range from emotional accounts of child abuse, addiction and violence, to ex-military officers trying to get rehabilitation and creating support networks, to a self-described ‘tramp’ enjoying the freedom he finds in wandering.

Perhaps it’s my relative ignorance of the lives of homeless people, but the pieces struck me as surprisingly internationalist in outlook – with Buddhist understandings and mentions of the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo – as well as historical, with creative imaginings of Dickens and classic literature. Contrary to my expectations, there was a lot of positivity in the works, describing a search for a utopia and including inspirational poetry, literally carved out of mainstream culture in order to delve backwards into the history of homelessness.

This exhibition humanises a group of people who are so often placed at the bottom of the societal slagheap, and gives them a voice that has so long been denied them.  The Homeless Library is an engaging, compassionate glimpse into an underrepresented community by people who refuse to be brushed under the carpet.

[Louise Wylie  – @WomanPendulum]

To see some of the work exhibited, you can download the free ebook which includes interviews, poems and artwork at

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