The unhoused: homelessness in early-twentieth century British Columbia




Kelly, Eoin

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North American histories of homelessness have focused upon the specific image of the “tramp.” Exemplified by Charlie Chaplin, Jack London, and various other popular representations in a variety of media formats, the tramp, hobo or bindlestiff is a classic North American symbol. This “tramp” is often represented as a young, white, heteronormative man, and many histories of homelessness focus upon subjects like him. However, newly accessible police, charity and census materials suggest the early twentieth century homeless population in the Pacific Northwest was more racially and sexually diverse than previously thought. Using a Gramscian liberal order framework theory, I argue that the tramp became a North American liberal ideological icon in response to a growing tension between the needs of capital for a free moving body of labourers and the growing panoptic state. By breaking down the tramp mythos and offering a more accurate image of turn of the century homeless people, we can see the ways liberal ideology has been twisted to justify incarceration, harassment, and exclusion.



Canadian History, Homelessness, Social History, Quantitative Historical Analysis, Cultural History