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Hobos, Hustlers, and BackslidersHomeless in San Francisco$
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Teresa Gowan

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780816648696

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816648696.001.0001

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The New Hobos

The New Hobos

(p.147) Five The New Hobos
Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders

Teresa Gowan

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter takes a look at San Francisco’s lively and harmonious homeless subculture built around recycling, through which hundreds of homeless pros laid claim to old-fashioned blue-collar masculinity. Spending their days energetically collecting bottles and cans, these homeless men developed a grammar of action geographically, economically, and culturally independent of the core skid row zones. Many of the recycling men sought to give their alternative homeless existence a name with broader social resonance than recycler. Struggling to explain the difference they claimed in positive terms, they lit on the image of the hobo, the penniless migrant worker who rode the rails in the years between Appomattox and World War II. Their faulty, addicted bodies were reborn into heroic manual labor, which in turn opened the door to some positive, egalitarian reconnection with each other and the nonhomeless. Within the niche economy of recycling, systemic critique took on a tone quite different from the sporadic hyperbole found among those panhandling or stealing, settling into a more coherent and a more feasible “design for life”.

Keywords:   homeless subculture, San Francisco, recycling, masculinity, hobo, manual labor, design for life, homeless men

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