More on Homelessness and Language


A comment I received on Twitter regarding my earlier post suggested that the hippy days of travelling were merely a rite of passage. And a commenter here noted that the homeless hippy differs from the homeless we see in Vancouver today by virtue of choice. They are both correct to some extent. However, my original essay was not an attempt to suggest that the hippies of my day and the homeless of today shared an experience; it was, rather, thoughts on the use of language by outsiders to describe such experiences.

I am interested in following the idea that the hippy days were “a rite of passage”, which suggests that is part of a continuum of experiences undertaken by each generation. I’m not really sure that is accurate.

Thirty or thirty-five years before the hippies, economic circumstances around the world pushed hundreds of thousands of people (mostly men) out onto the road and obliged many of them to live in hobo jungles. They had little choice in the matter, and they were certainly NOT feeding into any “rite”.

My father’s generation, a decade or more later, were forced into a series of wars (World War 2, Korea, Malaya, etc) which often involved much traveling but, again, little in the way of choice.

And though my generation of travelers often considered ourselves to be the descendants of the hobo spirit, the economic circumstances were the exact opposite. The 1960s and early 1970s were a period of economic prosperity and full employment. We could go on the road without fear because we knew, consciously or otherwise, that whenever we returned to our point of origin there would be a job and money for us. In fact, my own hippy travels were broken up by periods when I “came home” and worked full time.

I don’t recall any similar movements in the 1980s or 1990s, until perhaps, later, for the Occupy movement. But they could trace their inspiration to the other side of 1960s hippydom which was the anti-war movement and before them to the Ban the Bomb marches of the 1950s and 60s.

The city homeless today have most affinity with the hobo jungles of the 1930s overlaid with the very modern problem of designer killer-drugs. It took a decade of make-work projects and then half a decade of war to “solve” the hobo problem. We can only hope that something less drastic can help us through the present dilemma.

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