I spent my first homeless Christmas at an un-Christmas party that was hosted by a group of Hindu Indian students. It was the 1970s, and I was a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at Cornell University. The Indians were escaping their isolation from the Christian milieu of an American college. I was escaping, for that evening, the isolation of class and homelessness.

I had been living on $300 a month as a teaching assistant when, in my fourth year, I found myself homeless because of an abrupt rise...

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