Young and Homeless
in the Great Depression
Some Readings

This passage was written by journalist Lorena Hickok, the first woman hired by Associated Press. During the Depression, Harry Hopkins, aide to President Roosevelt, asked her to travel the country and write the truth about what she saw. This is part of her summary from January 1935.

Here are remarks from several young people in Providence, RI:
A 20-year-old boy: “Why the Hell should I get up in the morning, lady? What am I going to do with all these days? I’ve been looking for a job for four years. I’ve had two. Five months I’ve worked, in all. After a while you just know it ain’t getting you anywhere. There’s nothing for us!” Another boy: “I’d steal if I had the guts.” A pretty 21-year-old girl: “I’m young. It seems to me I got a right to something if it’s only one new dress a year.” 19-year-old boy: “It’s funny. A lot of times I get offered a drink. It seems like people don’t want to drink alone. But no one ever offers me a meal. Most of the time when I take a drink it makes me sick. My stomach’s too empty.”

This passage from Boy and Girl Tramps of America (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1934) was written by Thomas Minehan, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who traveled with young tramps to gather material for this book.

Travel interferes with meals. A youth shivers all night in a gondola. Next day he falls asleep on a hillside and sleeps the sleep of exhaustion until dusk. On awakening he is hungry, but where can he get food? The bread lines are closed. The police have, in one of the weekly raids, cleaned out the jungles. At none of the customary places are there friends or food. The youth can beg on the streets, walking miles perhaps before he gets a nickel.…

Dressed as a transient, registered and living at the missions, eating and sleeping with men and boys, working for my soup and bed, taking the compulsory shower and fumigation, I attempted to obtain needed clothing. Without an overcoat beyond a well-worn blazer, buttonless and out at one elbow, with a pair of trousers out at the knee and in the seat, with an old summer cap that had hung for years in a furnace room, with worn tennis shoes covered by patched rubbers, and with a pair of unmatched canvas gloves, I attempted to get some clothes through some regular relief agencies and to no avail….

Gondola: railroad car with sides but no top
Jungles: gathering place for transients on outskirts of town
Fumigation: disinfecting with smoke or fumes

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