Definitions of Homelessness


I spent considerable time in the late 1960s and early 1970s effectively homeless, travelling throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and America with little or no money. But neither I nor the many others I met in that period considered that we fit that description. In fact, it would never have occurred to me to think of myself in that way.

We were hippies; heirs to the hobos, moving from place to place in search of a few hours or days’ work in return for a few bucks or a room for the night; seeking the experiences and sunshine (and cheap drugs) while we “found ourselves”. Many of us had plans — hitch to Kathmandu, work on a safari park in East Africa, whatever — but those plans tended to run second to the immediate joys that each day brought us.

There were places where many hippies gathered — Marrakech, for example, the beaches of southern Spain, London, the Greek islands. But even there, I never remember anyone calling us homeless. We were called “hippies” or “filthy hippies” or “damn longhairs” but never homeless, even though we were. We often slept rough but were not referred to as “rough sleepers” as the homeless in England are called these days.

I’m not really sure where this piece is going, but I wonder at the change in vocabulary. We hippies were often sleeping in the streets, taking drugs, and were generally and purposefully idle. But the language used to describe similar groups in cities today has gotten far harsher than anything I ever heard back then. And much of this invective comes from people my age who lived through or experienced the life I have been describing.

Perhaps the change in language and attitude followed the change in the drugs being used. We had very few opiates in those days and, of course, no fentanyl. But we did have lots of marijuana, pills of various types, acid, and a great deal of alcohol; and I strongly suspect that the middle-class straights thought of those as just as evil as the opiates of today.

Perhaps we have just become a lot less tolerant.

Anyway, just some thoughts on a long afternoon.

3 Responses to Definitions of Homelessness

  1. I think the primary difference is that to qualify as homeless means the person in question doesn’t choose to live that way but is forced to. You on the other hand, chose to live that way for pleasure. I also spent quite a bit of time backpacking on a very low budget in Europe on an off between the ages of 18 and 23. I lugged around a heavy backpack and slept in a tent in secluded spots of cities. Do you have any special memories of your days as a Hippie abroad?

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