The Homeless Transient in the Great Depression: New York State, 1929-1941

By Joan M. Crouse | Go to book overview

5
Immediate Impact
of the Depression:
From the Transient's Perspective,
1929-33

FOR those transients who failed to qualify for state assistance or who had used up the hospitality of the local community, the final recourse was to rely on their own wits and "shift for themselves." In so doing the lone male transient became to many minds indistinguishable from the hobo, the tramp, or the bum. There were, of course, very definite distinctions between the estimated half a million transient men and those they were being so indiscriminately lumped together with. To begin with, the terms being used were not synonymous -- each represented a distinct life style and attitude. As explained a few years later in the constitution of the Hobos of America: "A hobo will work, a tramp won't and a bum couldn't if he wanted to. . . . A hobo believes the world owes him an opportunity, while the tramp thinks the world owes him a living and the bum just exists." More specifically, the hobo was a migratory worker who chose to pay his own way by his labor; the tramp, while also leading a migratory life, chose not to complicate it with work. The bum was generally stationary but homeless and decrepit and usually alcoholic. 1

The association between tramps and bums and the transient can be easily dismissed. Unlike either, the transient was very willing

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