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72 Songs About Poverty and Homelessness

FlourishAnyway believes there is a playlist for just about any situation and is on a mission to unite and entertain the world through song.

Out of work, out of money, and down on their luck, too many people face poverty, hunger, and homelessness.  Make a playlist of pop, rock, country, and R&B songs about the struggles that poor people face to simply survive.

Out of work, out of money, and down on their luck, too many people face poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Make a playlist of pop, rock, country, and R&B songs about the struggles that poor people face to simply survive.

Tent City in the Suburbs

In the suburbs where I live, there's a tent city in the woods of a nearby community college. This homelessness is in part the result of urban sprawl, as several local low-rent housing alternatives—mobile home communities and residential campsites—have found more lucrative uses for their land.

Some former residents of those locations now find themselves castaways in their own hometown. They can be found with cardboard signs, panhandling at local stop signs or sitting on benches outside local stores. Some venture into the YMCA or the nearby Target to use the facilities.

There are no homeless shelters in this suburb. Those are located in the metropolitan area, 15 miles away. What's a person living on the streets to do?

If poverty and homelessness are issues close to your heart, we have a whole playlist worth of pop, rock, and country songs about the topic. Make a playlist and spread awareness about the problem today.

1. "Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Collins

In this 1989 pop ballad, a cold, homeless woman cries as she beckons a stranger for help. Obviously suffering, she has blisters on her feet and can't walk. Rather than helping, however, the man does what it easy. He pretends not to hear her pleas, then whistles, and crosses the street to avoid her. What would you do?

2. "Moments" by Emerson Drive

A young man intending to end his life by suicide approaches a bridge in this 2006 country song. He is followed by an old homeless man who rises from his cardboard box shelter to share that his own life hasn't always been this way:

I've had my moments, days in the sun
Moments I was second to none
Moments when I knew I did what I thought I couldn't do
Like that plane ride coming home from the war
That summer my son was born
And memories like a coat so warm
A cold wind can't get through
Lookin' at me now you might not know it
But I've had my moments.

The tender exchange between strangers distracted the young man long enough for him to rethink his decision. Now, he looks back and wonders about how the homeless man must be sharing the story of his life-saving act. We are all capable of heroism.

3. "Cost of Livin'" by Ronnie Dunn

In this 2008 country song, a man applies for a job and laments the state of the economy. Having lost his factory job when it closed and moved south, he's now looking for any kind of work to feed and clothe his family. The wolf is knocking at his family's door, and like too many others in his position, he's just trying to survive.

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4. "Allentown" by Billy Joel

An anthem of America's blue collar workers, this 1982 rock song describes the decline of the steel industry in the rust belt of America and its impact on laid-off workers. People the age of Billy Joel's parents enjoyed a thriving working class life working in post-World War II industrial manufacturing, and their children were taught to expect a life at least as good as their parents'.

However, as cheap labor went overseas, opportunity dried up and the union provided little protection. Hordes of workers headed for the unemployment lines, unable to make ends meet. It left them disillusioned with the American dream.

5. "I Need a Dollar" by Aloe Blacc

This 2010 soul song was an international success. It features a man who is facing hard times ahead because he was fired from his job. Now he spends his time drinking. With no other options, he wants to trade his hard luck story for your money as a way of supporting himself.

6. "Even Flow" Pearl Jam

This 1991 rock song is sung from the perspective of a homeless man who is illiterate and mentally ill, as his thoughts "arrive like butterflies" and he chases them away. With concrete as his pillow, the man drifts off after praying to a higher power that hasn't seemed to have helped him much so far.

Approximately 700 homeless people die each year in the United States due to exposure to the elements. On average, homeless people can expect to die 30 years prematurely.

7. "Fancy" by Reba McEntire

Although Bobbie Gentry first introduced this song in 1969, it was country star Reba McEntire who made it famous in 1991. The classic country song describes a poverty-stricken single mother who lived in a shack outside of New Orleans with her two starving children. Seeing no other options, the terminally ill mother encouraged her 18-year-old daughter, Fancy, to prostitute herself as a means of making an independent living.

Years later, Fancy has grown from plain white trash to an astute businesswoman. She survived. Rather than blaming her late mother, she looks back on that difficult decision with empathy.

8. "The A Team" by Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran hit it out of the park with his 2011 debut single, which he wrote after visiting a homeless shelter. It's a tragic ballad about a young heroin-addicted prostitute who is half a breath away from homelessness as she struggles to make ends meet.
She is trapped in a deadly world of addiction and prostitution. Substance abuse has been documented as both a cause and a result of homelessness.

9. "Something to Believe In" by Poison

Bret Michaels wrote this sad 1990 power ballad to commemorate the loss of two important people in his life. His bodyguard and friend, Kimo, died alone in a Palm Springs Hotel Room on Christmas Eve 1989, the victim of a fast-paced lifestyle of drugs and alcohol that the band shared. The song also honors Michaels' cousin, a war-wounded Vietnam veteran.

The tune laments the inner anguish and unjust treatment that Vietnam vets faced after their service. It describes the homeless sleeping on the street as being "like bodies in an open grave." Sadly, more than one-quarter of homeless people are military veterans.

10. "Streets of Philadelphia" by Bruce Springsteen

This Grammy-winning rock song from 1994 was featured in the movie Philadelphia. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became an international hit. The movie brought attention to the issue of HIV/AIDS, a huge social stigma at the time. The rate of HIV/AIDS among homeless people is three times that in the general population.

In the song, the narrator describes being bruised, battered, and a shell of his former self. As he wanders the streets of the City of Brotherly Love, he fears dying lonely:

I saw my reflection in a window, I didn't know my own face
Oh, brother are you gonna leave me wastin' away
On, the streets of Philadelphia?

11. "Almost Home" by Craig Morgan

Each year, about 700 homeless people die from hypothermia, and the man in this sad country song from 2002 was on his way to becoming a victim. In the freezing weather, he lay curled up behind some garbage cans, trying his best to stay warm.

A stranger gave him a gentle shake and asked if he was okay. He woke but said that he wished the stranger had left him alone because he was dreaming of how things used to be, and he was almost home.

The average life span of a person living on the streets is 64 years of age.  Nearly one-third of homeless people are now over 50.

The average life span of a person living on the streets is 64 years of age. Nearly one-third of homeless people are now over 50.

12. "Is This the World We Created?" by Queen

In this 1984 rock song, the legendary rock group shines a light on the suffering and loneliness of the hungry and asks what God would think of this world that we created. The song was part of the 1985 Live Aid concert to raise funds for Ethiopian famine relief.

Unfortunately, despite organizers' best intentions, the country was embroiled in civil war and much of the $283 million raised was used for arms rather than food.

13. "Bread & Water" by Vince Gill

Dirty, dead broke, and ashamed, a man who lives on the streets wanders into a homeless mission in this 2001 country song. He's looking for bread, water, and a place to lay his head. The woman at the shelter welcomes him to the table and offers him friendship and spiritual guidance in addition to the meal he seeks.

14. "He Calls Home" by Candlebox

In this 1993 rock song, a young man, himself down to his last dollar, describes a panhandler whom he regularly sees on the streets. The stranger stays wrapped in a blanket, the only home he knows. The narrator wonders if the homeless man's family knows that he is alive and safe, and when the homeless man moves on, he worries about his welfare.

15. "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant

Like many people, I always assumed this 1982 reggae-infused pop song was a positive one, but I wasn't paying enough attention to the lyrics. Were you?

It refers to violence in the streets of a real place in London and tells the story of a poor man who admires many things in life that he cannot afford:

Workin' so hard like a soldier
Can't afford a thing on TV
Deep in my heart I'm a warrior
Can't get food for the kids, good God.

16. "Breadline" by Megadeth

The subject of this 1999 metal song has lost their job and the power and prestige that came with it. As he continues to sink into depression and poverty, he spends any remaining money on drugs to numb his feelings of dejection. As a result, he relies on free food for meals. About one in seven Americans rely on food banks to get by.

17. "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman

In this 1988 pop song, the narrator is a dreamer who desperately seeks to claw and scrape herself out of poverty. With little formal education and a broken family life, she relies on her own meager savings from a convenience store job to escape her surroundings.

Her partner's contribution is a fast car that takes them to a different situation where they repeat the same cycle of low-paid work, minimal savings, and failing to advance in any significant way economically. Still, she dreams of something better.

18. "Looking for Angels" by Skillet

Among others who are short on hope, the hungry and homeless walk this life looking for understanding angels who walk the street and can lend a sympathetic hand. This 2006 Christian contemporary song encourages us all to be a force of positive change in someone else's life.

19. "Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind" by Confederate Railroad

The narrator in this 1994 country song remembers his father as a thrifty, simple man. The family was poor when he was young, and he was jealous of his friends whose families were more affluent. However, his dad emphasized the truisms that "It's what inside that really matters" and "Love is the one thing that money can't buy." He upholds and celebrates those values now that he is an adult.

20. "Burnin' It Down" by Steve Earle

This man feels like he's out of options in life. He's in a very dark place. The 2013 folk rock song features a narrator who left his hometown on a Greyhound bus but now sits in his pickup truck in a Walmart parking lot only a half-mile from where he grew up. A deep sense of failure gnaws at his insides.

He has nowhere to go and has been living out of his vehicle. His chances of having a good life have evaporated: "I'm getting old. Got no place to go. It's all come unwound."

He keeps looking at his lighter and his 10 gallons of propane. He ponders hard whether he'll torch the vehicle and the store. Such desperate times.

Domestic violence is a major cause of homelessness for women.

Domestic violence is a major cause of homelessness for women.

Even More Songs About Poverty and Homelessness

Know a song about being poor or homeless that should be on this playlist? Make a song suggestion in the Comments Section below!

SongArtistYear Released

21. Homeless

Ed Sheeran

2011

22. Grown Men Don't Cry

Tim McGraw

2001

23. House of a Thousand Dreams

Martina McBride

2007

24. Brother

Matt Corby

2017

25. Ghost of Tom Joad

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

2002

26. Livin' on a Prayer

Bon Jovi

1989

27. Common People

Pulp

1995

28. Dead End Street

The Kinks

1966

29. Santa I'm Right Here

Toby Keith

1995

30. Living on Love

Alan Jackson

1994

31. Hard Times

Paramore

2017

32. King of the Road

Roger Miller

1965

33. Hand to Mouth

George Michael

1988

34. Hands

Jewel

1998

35. Do They Know It's Christmas

Band Aid

1984

36. What If She's an Angel

Tommy Shane

2002

37. Man on the Corner

Genesis

1981

38. The Christmas Shoes

NewSong

2000

39. Angels with Dirty Faces

Los Lobos

1991

40. Coal Miner's Daughter

Loretta Lynn

1970

41. Homeless

Charlie Wilson

2009

42. If We Make It Through December

Merle Haggard

1974

43. Used Car

Bruce Springsteen

1982

44. Too Much Month (at the End of the Money)

Marty Stuart

2003

45. Shuttin' Detroit Down

John Rich

2009

46. Pretty Paper

Roy Orbison

1963

47. Last Dollar (Fly Away)

Tim McGraw

2007

48. Jackie Brown

John Cougar Mellencamp

1989

49. In the Ghetto

Elvis Presley

1969

50. Work

Iggy Azalea

2014

51. Marie

Townes Van Zandt

1984

52. Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

George Michael

1999

53. Like a Rolling Stone

Bob Dylan

1965

54. Love's the Only House

Martina McBride

1999

55. Coat of Many Colors

Dolly Parton

1971

56. Poor Side of Town

Johnny Rivers

1966

57. Homeless Child

Ben Harper

1997

58. Homeless

Jake Miller

2013

59. There's Nothing Soft About Hard TImes

Jimmy Buffett

1970

60. No Woman, No Cry

Bob Marley

1975

61. Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out

Eric Clapton

1994

62. Busted

Ray Charles

1963

63. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

Marvin Gaye

1971

64. Red Shoes

Chris Rea

1991

65. Mr. Wendal

Arrested Development

1992

66. Rag Doll

The Four Seasons

1964

67. Houston

Dean Martin

1965

68. Keep the Wolves Away

Uncle Lucius

2012

69. Mournin' Glory Story

Harry Nilsson

1969

70. Can't Cash My Checks

Jamey Johnson

2010

71. On the Nickel

Tom Waits

2005

72. Somebody's Daughter

Tenille Townes

2018

Questions & Answers

Question: Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote a song for Barbra Streisand to sing about hunger and homelessness. What is it called?

Answer: The song was apparently written for Dionne Warwick originally, but there was some conflict behind the scenes and Bacharach announced on a 1971 television special that he had written the song, "Be Aware," for Barbara Streisand. Here are sample lyrics about hunger as well as a YouTube link:

And while your stomach's full

Somewhere in this world

Someone is hungry

When there is so much

Should anyone be hungry?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oG3BabJI-Yw

Question: I'm not very smart and don't have any special skills. I also tend to say things to offend people. Do I have any chance of making it in this life?

Answer: Not everyone is smart or has special skills, but skills can be learned and so can self-confidence. What I'd worry about is your habit of blurting out offensive comments. While you can work hard and apply yourself, rude and inconsiderate behavior will hold you back. Work on that as well as showing up every day with a good attitude ready to give your 100% to whatever task you're applying yourself to. Flipping burgers or cleaning toilets are both honest jobs that should be applauded, for example. Whatever job you're qualified to perform just put your full effort into it and be proud of yourself.

Question: Which songs by Ed Sheeran are based on homelessness?

Answer: Ed Sheeran wrote his song, "The A Team" after visiting a homeless shelter. Early in his music shelter, there were some nights when he did not have a bed to sleep and thus had to resort to sleeping outside of Buckingham Palace or on the Tube (the London subway). He has written and/or recorded several songs that reference rough sleeping/homelessness, including:

"Homeless" (2011)

"The A Team" (2011)

"London Bridge" (with Yelawolf, 2012)

"I Will Take You Home" (2014)

"Runaway" (2015)

"Dark Times" by The Weeknd (with Ed Sheeran, 2015)

© 2018 FlourishAnyway

Comments

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on April 13, 2020:

Ruth E Kaiser - Thanks for stopping by. Stay healthy during this difficult time and take care of your brother, husband, and his homeless friend.

Ruth E Kaiser on April 12, 2020:

Wonderful compilation. Here's one more just released today:

https://daveseabury.bandcamp.com/track/streets-of-...

From my husband, his brother, and a homeless friend Ace Backwards.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on April 04, 2020:

Grabber - Thanks for the song suggestion which I have added. Be well in this precarious time.

Grabber on April 02, 2020:

You missed the best one, Mournin Glory Story by Nilsson

Robert Sacchi on June 27, 2019:

You're welcome. Your articles trigger a lot of song memories.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on June 27, 2019:

Shawindi - Thank you!

Shawindi Silva from Sri lanka on June 26, 2019:

A great article !!!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on June 26, 2019:

Bob - Thanks for that suggestion!

Robert Sacchi on June 24, 2019:

Consider "Houston" by Dean Martin.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on June 24, 2019:

AF - Thank you.

AF on June 24, 2019:

Great list. I love them.

Robert Sacchi on January 01, 2019:

Thanks. I think that comes from being from an earlier generation.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 01, 2019:

Bob - You always seem to come up with the ones no one else can. Great addition. Thank you and wishing you all the best in the new year ahead!

Robert Sacchi on December 30, 2018:

What about "Rag Doll" by "The Four Seasons"?

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on December 30, 2018:

John - Thanks for the suggestion. I'll add it.

John on December 30, 2018:

Arrested development - mr. Wendel...

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on September 17, 2018:

Shaun - Thanks for the additional information. Although it doesn't ring a bell, I'll keep my eyes out for it. Also, perhaps one of our readers will know. Many people read the comments. If someone knows I hope they'll leave a comment here.

shaun on September 16, 2018:

well i heard it about 10 or 9 years ago so i think 2009 maybe , its like soft rock i couldn't remember the lyrics , all i could remember is the video clip , even when i tried to search about the video clip i didnt get the result , so i thought maybe you could remember

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on September 12, 2018:

Shannon - I have it represented on both this list and a playlist about sad Christmas songs. Such a sad song.