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Homeless vs. Hobo: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 29, 2023
Homeless refers to individuals lacking a permanent residence, while a hobo is a term historically used for a traveling worker or vagrant, often associated with itinerant living.

Key Differences

Homeless individuals lack stable, permanent housing, often due to various socio-economic factors. Hobo, a term from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, describes someone who travels to work, typically transient laborers.
The homeless situation arises from a myriad of issues, including financial instability, lack of affordable housing, or personal crises. Hobos, historically, chose a life of travel, often hopping freight trains, in search of temporary jobs.
Homelessness can affect anyone, regardless of background, and involves a struggle to find consistent shelter. In contrast, the hobo lifestyle was once a choice for many, embracing a nomadic life and temporary work.
Being homeless is often associated with a lack of access to basic needs and support systems. The hobo culture, particularly in early 20th-century America, developed its own community norms and ethics, despite being outside mainstream society.
Today, the term homeless is used to address a serious social issue, requiring empathy and support. The term hobo has historical connotations and is less commonly used in modern language, often perceived as outdated or pejorative.

Comparison Chart


Lacking permanent residence
Traveling worker, often transient


Often due to socio-economic issues
Historically, a choice for nomadic lifestyle

Period of Relevance

Current and ongoing issue
Historically relevant, especially in early 20th century

Societal Perception

Viewed with concern and need for support
Viewed as part of a unique, itinerant subculture


Widespread and diverse in demographics
Historically common, less so in modern times

Homeless and Hobo Definitions


In a state of being without secure and adequate housing.
The government is addressing the homeless crisis.


Someone who adopts transient living for work and travel.
He lived as a hobo during the Great Depression.


Without a home or permanent place of residence.
The city has programs to assist homeless individuals.


An individual part of a unique subculture of traveling laborers.
The hobo community had its own set of ethics and norms.


Lacking stable, permanent housing.
Homeless shelters provide temporary refuge.


A traveling worker, often doing temporary jobs.
The hobo moved from town to town seeking work.


Living in temporary accommodations or on the streets.
Many homeless people rely on community support.


A vagrant or itinerant, historically associated with train hopping.
Hobos in the early 1900s often traveled by freight trains.


Without a fixed address or stable living situation.
Charities work to help the homeless find housing.


A person living a nomadic life, often by choice.
The hobo lifestyle was a choice for adventure and freedom.


Having no home or haven.


One who wanders from place to place without a permanent home or a means of livelihood.


People without homes considered as a group. Often used with the.


A migrant worker.


Lacking a permanent place of residence.
Whenever I pass the park, I see the homeless people sleeping on the benches.


Also hobo bag A large, crescent-shaped handbag with a single shoulder strap and usually a zippered top.


Destitute of a home.


To live or wander like a vagrant.


Those people who have no permanent residence, especially those who live outdoors due to poverty; usually used in the definite phrase the homeless.


(North America) A wandering homeless person, especially (historical) one illegally travelling by rail or (pejorative) a penniless, unemployed bum.


Someone with no housing;
The homeless became a problem in the large cities


(North America) Any migratory laborer, whether homeless or not.


People who are homeless;
The homeless lived on the city streets


A kind of large handbag.


Without nationality or citizenship;
Stateless persons


To be a hobo, tramp, bum etc.
Joe idly hoboed through half the country till he realized hoboing never gets you anywhere in life.


Physically or spiritually homeless or deprived of security;
Made a living out of shepherding dispossed people from one country to another


A professional tramp; one who spends his life traveling from place to place, esp. by stealing rides on trains, and begging for a living.


A disreputable vagrant;
A homeless tramp
He tried to help the really down-and-out bums


Are there different types of homelessness?

Yes, including chronic, transitional, and episodic homelessness.

Are homeless people always unemployed?

No, some may have jobs but still lack stable housing.

Is homelessness a global issue?

Yes, it affects many countries worldwide.

Is being a hobo illegal?

While not illegal, certain actions like train hopping are unlawful.

What causes homelessness?

Factors like poverty, unemployment, and lack of affordable housing.

Did hobos have a code or ethics?

Yes, they developed their own norms and codes within their community.

Is the term hobo still commonly used?

It's less common now and can be seen as outdated or pejorative.

Can children be homeless?

Yes, families with children can experience homelessness.

Are all homeless people in urban areas?

No, homelessness occurs in both urban and rural areas.

Can homelessness happen suddenly?

Yes, due to unforeseen circumstances like job loss or health issues.

Are hobos and tramps the same?

No, tramps typically work only when necessary, unlike hobos.

Can homelessness be solved?

It's a complex issue, but efforts can be made to reduce it.

Is homelessness just about lacking a house?

No, it also involves lacking stability and access to basic needs.

Do hobos still exist today?

While less common, some people still live a lifestyle similar to hobos.

Do hobos contribute to society?

Historically, they contributed through various temporary labor roles.

What was a hobo originally?

A traveler who took temporary jobs, often in the early 20th century.

Do homeless people often receive government assistance?

Yes, many rely on government programs for support.

Are homeless people at risk of health issues?

Yes, they face higher risks of health problems due to their living conditions.

Do hobos have a cultural significance?

Yes, they are part of historical narratives about nomadic lifestyles and labor.

Were hobos part of American folklore?

Yes, they became part of the folklore, symbolizing freedom and adventure.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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