Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Transients in old-time Phoenix


Yesterday, while I was enjoying some coffee at the McDonalds which is just northwest of the original edge of the Sahuaro Ranch in Glendale (67th Avenue and Peoria) I talked to a young man who told me that he was working with the homeless in Phoenix. And I was surprised that he wasn't familiar with the word "transient". Because transient people have always been in Phoenix, and the word transient simply means someone who moves around.

There's an emotional connotation to the word "homeless" which he told me implies that someone has lost their home and would like to get back into one. Transient people aren't all necessarily that way. I'll see if I can explain. Time-travel with me to old-time Phoenix.

Certain old-fashioned terms really don't mean much anymore, but I'll start with the word "Hobo". That was just someone who traveled around, sometimes walking, sometimes hitching a ride. They may, or may not have been wishing that they had four walls around them, and rent, or a mortgage. They simply traveled around, maybe from town to town, or wherever they wanted to go. They tended to not smell very good, but just being a hobo didn't mean that they were criminals.

Another old-fashioned term that isn't used much today is "Bum". And a Bum isn't the same as a Hobo. A Hobo travels around, and accepts work for pay, Bums don't. Bums are what most people think of when they think of a transient person, but it's never been true. Some people just like to travel around, and not pay rent, or have a mortgage. That makes them a traveler, not a bum.

Living in California, and Arizona, I've seen transient people. In California I would see them waking up on the beach, grabbing their backpack, and moving along. If they went into town it wasn't to steal, or beg, it was to find some work, maybe sweeping, that would get them enough money to keep moving. The bums didn't do that - they were also called "panhandlers", and they were a menace to the local businesses.

I never would have made a good transient person, I like my comforts. But in my imagination I'd like to believe that I could have been. Thank you for traveling with me!

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