Mon. May 27th, 2024

By: Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda

I’ve noticed a tendency of many college-aged kids to admire a new form of the hobo lifestyle, called neo hoboism. You don’t know what this is? Let me explain.

A Neo-hobo is a person around the ages of 16 and into their late 20s. They feel a sense of disillusionment with the character of society today and its traditions. They have favorable a view of our nation’s past hobos, idolizing the hobo’s ability to shirk society and its traditions to live a vagabond lifestyle of busking, sleeping out under the stars, and cooking over a campfire.

These people think of themselves as “starting a renaissance” and “survivalists” when they give up a home and adopt homelessness within the confines of having some form of “neo-romanticism.” with homelessness.

In the article, New Hobos or Neo-Romantic Fantasy? Urban Ethnography beyond the Neoliberal Disconnect, Teresa Gowen says they take up an “anomalous social space within the field of homelessness in San Francisco…”

…that of “pro” recyclers, homeless men who spend much of their time collecting recyclables for redemption. Unlike the panhandlers, broken shelter-dwellers and small-time hustlers of San Francisco’s Tenderloin and other skid row zones, the recyclers orient much of their existence around work. By working within a unique economic niche provided by the state-supported recycling industry, and by drawing on support from sympathetic residents and advocates, the recyclers create an unusual homeless subculture which, as they themselves argue, has more than a little in common with the hobo jungles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

She goes on to assert that these people represent “very real concerns with morality and ethics among poor people themselves.”

The recyclers’ concerns with mutual respect and the pleasures of labor represent not post hoc justifications of desperate survival strategies, but a dogged, often passionate collective effort to create a truly different experience and understanding of homelessness itself.

(Source: Qualitative Sociology doi:10.1007/s11133-009-9133-5 Key: citeulike:5046510)

The Neo Romanticists

Here is an example of a young man who is fascinated with this new movement:


The Googly Minotaur

E-mail address:


How can I spell write this without be laughed at and being totally abused for my ideas? Ah, screw it. I am a senior (grade level, not age) at Tustin High School (thats right next to Irvine, California if you didn’t know). I have become interested in this Neobeatnik movement your website speaks of. Maybe its just a joke to you, but I consider myself a neobeatnik. However, I am not the only one here. Only resently have I discovered one of my close friends share interest in the old Beat movement ideology. Though we are the only two to express our membership in a new beatnik existance, many of our other friends share the same beliefs. I feel like I am going out on a limb here. Do our definitions of a neobeatnik movement coincide? I have relized that most of my beliefs have been expressed in the Beat movement fifty years earlier. What does a generationly challenged person, as myself, do? The answer is to accept myself as a twenty-first century beatnik. If you have any interest of the neobeatniks of Southern California or if you need someone to ridecule…email me.Yes, I am writing my email twice because it is just that important.        

(Source: Neobeatnik hobos)

Neo Hoboism Self Expression

This movement has even impacted the most basic behavior of self expression through the clothing youth now purchases. The romanticism with hoboism moves into the way youth express themselves with this handbag, called a “Neo hobo” bag, by Coach; which is, oddly enough, a brand that most homeless people probably couldn’t afford. The interesting thing about this is that merchandise like this actually reinforces the traditions these people hope to distance themselves from.

The Paradox

What struck me in reading social attitudes about this social group was the fact that so many wondered felt homeless college kids playing the neo hobo role should be allowed to feel disillusionment with society. But, when a mature person in their forties felt the same thing, many felt (myself included) that they were in denial about the suffering they’ve endured. That they had been so stripped of human kindness and beaten so far down by the harsh realities of homelessness, that they were forming this attitude based upon the damage to their psyche.

It made me wonder if this isn’t disrespectful to these people. Why would a young man acting out his fantasy of independence as a neo hobo have an opinion any more relevant than a mature person adopting the same role?

The answer sickened me. Because, it went back to a basic attitude that seems to follow the homeless. That of people trying to help the homeless feeling they have a margin on thinking for the homeless. Frankly, I found that condescending to the older neo hobos.


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7 thoughts on “Part 3, Neo-Hoboism”
  1. Hi Jennifer

    I actually found the article interesting, but seriously, my brain is a bit shorted out at the entire concept just now .. when I consider the thought is there were to be any honest demographic study, I expect our lower middle class and up are 1% compared to say, a day laborer in Bihar, India.

    Perhaps these kinds are intuitive at what must be just around the corner in our lifetime, that is collapse. A risk of going tangental here, I’d simply point out every possible trick and lie has been employed to prop up our system and let’s consider there was never was [and never will be] a recovery from the ‘bubble burst’ so much as a massive herniation of debt concealed from the public:

    In which case we all will be practicing ‘hoboism’ when the sleight-of-hand must inevitably fail of its own sheer weight [exacting a recoup is, I propose, impossible]

    Myself, thinking about this, I recall the [Native American] Indian joke “When the next depression comes, we’ll be the last to know”

    All of that said, here is an essay [link] by a sixteen year old on the subject, recalling ‘there is great power in knowing when not to care’ or alternatively stated: there can be great power in laughing at oneself and circumstance


  2. When i read your article, i didn’t really feel any particular alarm concerning the existence of neo-hoboism. It sounded remarkably like the era of the sixties hippie movement, when young people left their homes in droves to hitch-hike across the country and adopt new life styles and value systems. It’s not unusual. Anytime there is general dissatisfaction with an existing social norm, an oppositional movement will rise to challenge it.

    I think “recyclers” is a bonus aspect of this movement. A friend once observed, “America’s biggest sin is what it throws in the garbage”. I think it’s as true now as it was then; and it’s been over twenty years ago since i first heard the comment. Should we be alarmed that forty year old’s are joining the movement? Only if we view the forty year old homeless as a victim with trauma, and not as one who has given up on our current society as hopeless. Giving up on society might be a trauma in itself, but the solution isn’t really counseling, but changing the circumstances that have caused the forty year old homeless to view society as hopeless.

  3. What this installment illustrates to me is that there is a difference between being “homeless” by choice; as in Neo-Hoboism and being homeless with no choice.

    These people (mostly young ones) are choosing their lifestyle and working at it. It’s not the same as being pushed out and marginalized. Is it good overall? I’m not sure. There are the good points like the recyling, people learning empathy, helping one another.

    Then there is the less than good side: The neo-hobos aren’t really helping those less fortunate, they have a safety net, they will most likely grow out of it and speak to others in terms of the good times they had. All the while there is a very real population without a net, not having a “good time”. The risk is they may be forgotten given all the great good stories the Neo-hobos tell.

  4. But if neo-hobos can enjoy homelessness and make the most of it, doesn’t it stand to reason that regular hobos could too?

  5. The idea behind the article is the hypocrisy of the neo-hobo. It is an ageist concept of spoiled youth trying to capitalize on the misery of many homeless, as Grainne has stated. Beyond that, because of their youth, they suddenly become the “voice” for those they really know nothing about.

    It’s like me speaking about the experience I had while living in El Salvador, but as an American who could leave and go home. Do I REALLY understand the what it’s like to suffer poverty as a Salvadoran? No, because I always have the option to leave, so I don’t know the hopelessness! And the same goes for the neo-hobo, exploiting the homeless, using up resources that many homeless should be receiving, and knowing they have an out, while the homeless have no hope for an out much of the time.

    The hypocrisy of the college kids playing a role and allowed to feel disillusionment with society; opposed to a mature person in their forties actually marginalized by society (because of their age), feeling the same disillusionment; but judged as if they are in denial about the suffering they’ve endured by homeless specialists (because of their age).

  6. Ronald Thomas West,

    In the article about young Lars Eighner’s essay (I didn’t see the actual essay, so I can’t comment on it) I’m assuming that the author has determined “extremism” to mean that Lars has decided he’s a “hippie extremist” what ever that is? He doesn’t define what he assumes a hippie extremist is, so I’m not sure what his mindset is and that could be different things for different people.

    I’m guessing from the article the author is commenting on the sixteen year old’s evaluation of life.

    The point of my article is that a sixteen year old’s perception of the world is likely to be much different than a person in their forties. The person in their 40s who is homeless, most likely has been displaced from a job they held for years, because of this economy and ageism. I’m not minimizing the sixteen year old’s experience, but I’m not celebrating it as the example either.

    The article seems to celebrate a conservative view of what they determine is extremism, without defining it clearly. To me, most conservatives are extremists. They seem to have an extremist need to exercise control of the rest of society, from reproductive rights to corporate rights.

    As for settling for a middle view between one side or the other…I don’t think that is wise. People should stand for what they believe, not a washed down version of it. That’s mediocrity in my opinion.

    For instance, I will never endorse rape. A rapist might. To settle somewhere in the middle because we don’t agree doesn’t help the rape victim, does it?

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