"Buggrit! Millennium hand and shrimp!"
In media, the homeless are portrayed generally as being alcoholics and drug addicts. They're usually terrible, immoral people, who would steal and kill anyone for the sake of a crusty old piece of bread. Some of them are so obnoxious they'll even refuse things like food in lieu of things like booze and drugs.
Interestingly, the key operating word here is not "homeless", but "people". Usually, when only a single homeless person (or married couple) gets at least half a dozen lines, the view is sympathetic. They're just a character who has fallen on hard times. It's even possible that the hero knows them from before the Big Bad
broke the world.
The trope is a partial Truth in Television
as the mentally ill are disproportionally represented in the homeless population. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 20-25% of the homeless population have "serious mental illnesses". The symptoms of many mental illnesses and addictions can make holding down a job difficult (and the stigma of a former brush with mental illness makes many employers wary of hiring them), and the loss of income may eventually lead to homelessness. The problem is compounded by the Patients' Rights Movement, which makes forcing someone into treatment extremely difficult, and America (and the rest of the world) instituting the policy of deinstitutionalization
with regards to the mentally ill during the 1960s and 1970s. The idea was that with the invention of many psychotropic drugs (Thorazine for schizophrenia, Prozac for depression, Valium for anxiety, Lithium for bipolar disorder, etc), instead of locking up the mentally ill in mental hospitals (possibly for years or the rest of their lives), they would be given medication and sent home, and the money saved would be instead reinvested into community housing and social support programs to help these patients reintegrate into the community. Unfortunately, governments being what they are, the mental hospitals closed right on cue but the replacement social programs never materialized (and in fact many of the existing social programs ended up being dismantled during the Carter and Reagan eras). This left a vast number of mentally ill patients being left to fend for themselves and many of them relapsed and ended up homeless.
A subset of Acceptable Hard Luck Targets
. Also see Homeless Pigeon Person
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Strongly subverted when Gin, Hana and Miyuki, the central three characters in Tokyo Godfathers, show us a side of Tokyo rarely seen in anime.
- Hasegawa Taizou A.K.A. Madao (which stands for "totally useless middle-aged man" in Japanese) from Gintama is a subversion of this, being a lot more sympathetic then your average hobo. While almost everyone treats him like dirt, the only thing he's really inept at is finding and keeping a job and has actually forgone jobs for the sake of doing what's right.
- There's also Musashi whose only response to anything is "Can you eat it?"
- Arakawa Under the Bridge is about the wacky shenanigans of community of homeless people (under a bridge in Arakawa) who are all... unique, in their own ways.
- Tony Stark spent several issues in the 80s on the streets constantly drunk after his company was bought, his personal accounts frozen, and his apartments taken away.
- The Sub-Mariner wandered the Bowery as a homeless amnesiac for years before Johnny Storm found him.
- Subverted by the homeless guy Anne meets in Why I Hate Saturn, with whom she has a conversation about the term "homeless."
"...did you ever wonder who decided to call bums 'homeless'? Why did that start? It seems that as 'bums,' we were individuals, but as 'the homeless,' we're an institution."
- Justified by Ezrael in Vögelein, at least whenever he talks to Vogelein:
"Nobody'll see you. Everybody 'round here already thinks I'm a crazy old man, anyhow. They won't care if I talk to myself."
- Being heavily based in New York, Minimum Wage (AKA Beg the Question) shows plenty of crazy homeless people.
- Garth Ennis' Punisher had quite a few. One storyline revolved around a homeless guy who lived in the New York sewers and had people abducted, killed and kept in a huge pile under which he lay in order to remind him of his obese mother. Another story began with a splash page of a homeless guy on the street, being ignored, screaming, "I JUST WANT TO GO HOME!!"
- A Marshal Law story featuring a Punisher clone caller The Persecutor included gangs of cannibal tramps infesting much of New York.
- Subverted in The Invisibles where the crazy homeless guy is The Obi-Wan (Tom O' Bedlam).
- Transmetropolitan had Spider doing a column on these.
- In Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Nny describes his comic strip, Happy Noodle Boy, as being "very popular with the homeless insane."
- In Stranger Than Fiction a crazy homeless man frequents Ana's bakery.
Homeless Guy: Are you gonna tax the bathroom?
- John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. The Big Bad takes mental control of the homeless people around the church and uses them to prevent the protagonists from escaping.
- C.H.U.D. was another exception. The subterranean-dwelling homeless were portrayed (mostly) as nice people, and one of the heroes ran a homeless shelter. Then the homeless all started mutating, but that was mostly because so little was being done for them.
- In The Pursuit of Happyness, there's one bum who thinks that the bone density scanner is a time machine. The main characters are aversions, however.
- Robin Williams in The Fisher King.
- The second Home Alone movie has Kevin eventually befriend a bird lady that turns out to be not so scary after all.
- Mary Poppins sings a song about the Old Bird Woman, presenting her in a sympathetic light, and this eventually leads to an uproar at the bank his father works with because young Michael would rather spend his money feeding the birds.
- Subverted by the local bum in UHF, who looks and speaks like a crazy bum. However, when he asks George for some change, he takes exactly $1 in coins and hands George a dollar bill in return. Later, when apparently trying to do the same thing to the villain, he receives only a single penny, which he instantly recognizes as being a valuable collector's item. He invests the money he makes on the penny wisely — by buying up all the remaining U62 shares, thus saving the station.
- Played with in Dirty Work:
Mitch: Hey, homeless guys! I'll tell ya what. I'll give you a dollar each if you'll go into this building here and run around yellin' and screamin'.
Homeless Guy #1: Uh, that's very nice, but I think what you probably need are, like, some psycho, out-of-control homeless guys?
Homeless Guy #2: Yeah, we're more the broken, spiritless, I've-lost-the-will-to-live type homeless guys.
Mitch: How about for two dollars?
[Cut to the homeless people running into the building screaming]
- Around the World in Eighty Days adaptation starring Jackie Chan has a crazy homeless man played by Rob Schneider.
- The B-Movie Street Trash plays this trope straight and very harsh.
- The killer in the slasher film Open House turns out to be a crazed vagrant who is killing realtors because he blames them for his homelessness.
- One of these appears briefly in Anthropophagous 2000. He tells the main characters to turn back, then eats a pregnant woman's vomit.
- Mouth to Mouth: Averted. Most of the characters are homeless and apparently sane, if quite influencable.
- Also, even though Mad Axe appears to play this trope straight, it's later subverted when he reveals it's all just a masquerade with the following quote:
- "The more fucked up people think you are, the more likely they are to leave you alone."
- The protagonist of The Soloist is a mentally disturbed homeless.
- The Babysitters Club. During the books when Stacey lived in New York, she talked about a homeless woman named Judy who talked to her sometimes. She is mildly mentally unstable but has her good days and bad days.
- In the Discworld series, a number of Ankh-Morpork's beggars are like this, including:
- Foul Ole Ron, a completely insane Talkative Loon with a sentient stench that outclasses him who employs Gaspode the Wonder Dog as a "thinking brain dog."
- Duck Man, a perfectly normal "upper-class gentleman down on his luck" type, save that he cannot recognize that there is a duck on his head.
- At least, everyone else thinks he has a duck on his head. The Duck Man knows he has no duck on his head. The duck's views on this are unrecorded.
- Altogether Andrews, who has seven personalities, none of whom are named Andrews. Terry speculates that the original Andrews was a medium with a mild personality who has been competely overtaken by ghosts or spirits.
- Although it appears that most of his personalities are pretty sane, or at worst eccentric. (Most. It's implied that one, Burke, is Ax-Crazy.)
- In Terry Pratchett's non-Discworld novel Johnny & The Bomb the adventure is kick-started by the discovery of Mrs. Tachyon - the local bag lady (who is very much like Foul Ole' Ron) - lying unconscious in an alleyway.
- In Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz, the antagonist has psychic powers and can create dangerous golems from his own mind. One takes the form of a disgusting, cruel vagrant to torment a man, who actually is homeless and is not bad or crazy at all.
- The novel There is a Happy Land by Keith Waterhouse features "Uncle Mad," a mentally simple homeless man whom the ten-year-old (nameless) narrator becomes friendly with. The narrator finds Uncle Mad strange but does not see anything frightening or unwelcome about him, and they develop a genuine friendship of sorts. Eventually Uncle Mad is blamed for the murder and (implied) rape of a local girl, which in reality was committed by an older boy. The narrator doesn't really understand the implications of this, but helps Uncle Mad escape before he can be arrested.
- This trope gets considerable play in Aunt Dimity's Christmas. The villagers' reactions to the news that Lori and her family had a collapsed vagrant airlifted to hospital ranges from incredulity to hostility. Lori herself also recounts how she is often uncomfortable when confronted by homeless people (having so nearly been one herself); of the villagers, she says, "I was the last person on earth qualified to judge my neighbors. I had too much in common with them." Lori and Fr. Bright also have an argument over the man's sanity, especially as the evidence of his recent past suggests he has done highly unusual things and may have been committed to a psychiatric hospital; the priest later admits, "Where there was goodness, I chose to see madness." Rev. Bunting chastises the villagers for their attitude as well.
- In the Circle of Magic books - specifically, their sequels - Daja meets with a homeless man who seems crazy, but is surprisingly helpful. He returns in The Will of The Empress and catches Tris' eye. Together Tris and Briar conclude that he actually has the phenomenally rare ability to see and hear on the wind, which, combined with his attempts to repress it, and all the horrible treatments administered to try and make him stop it, and the constant treatment as if he is insane, have driven him half-mad already. They help him and it's suggested at the end that he's going to be able to function (relatively) normally in society from now on.
Live Action TV
- Elmont in Doonesbury is quite deranged, but not dangerous to anyone (in fact he's quite sympathetic).
- In Frank And Ernest, Frank and Ernest are often bums. (Genre Roulette means they can also hold a number of other positions.)
Tabletop Roleplaying Games
- Unknown Armies had the canon NPC Jeeter. A partial subversion, as while he is insane, he's also a cosmic-level mystic.
- It's not just Jeeter. A surprising number of Crazy Homeless People are also powerful wizards. The most likely reason for this is that you need to go crazy to become a magickal adept, and clinically insane people have difficulty maintaining homes and jobs. So when people on the street ask for change, give it to them, or they might trap you in some kind of dark alternate-reality Minneapolis.
- Eliza's father in My Fair Lady has a whole musical number about how he refuses to work, takes money from his own daughter to spend on booze, and tries to get money out of the professor when he finds out that she's been given lessons and board there.
- The Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd can go from a kindly old woman to bawdy prostitute in two seconds flat. She carries around a rag doll and sings nursery rhymes to it and essentially stalks and sexually harasses Anthony. Justified, as she went insane after attempting suicide with arsenic following her rape and her husband's deportation
- The Lost from City of Heroes are a villain group consisting of homeless people who are in varying stages of being mutated into Rikti. In the lower levels, they talk like the typical portrayal, ranting about "the Change", but as their levels and rank increase, the Lost start to bear a closer resemblance to them in powers, weaponry, and speech patterns, and at about Lv. 30, the transformation is complete and the Lost faction is completely replaced by them.
- The Condemned games are all about beating up crazy homeless people.
- Several in Grand Theft Auto IV - one of whom lives well within earshot of your apartment.
- The hobos in Kingdom of Loathing, especially their Talkative Loon leader, Hodgman the Hoboverlord.
- Ollie the Bum from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
- Crazy Dave in Plants vs. Zombies. Maybe. He calls himself your neighbor, which suggests that he has a home, but he runs a shop out of his car, wears a pot on his head, and speaks in gibberish.
- Team Fortress 2's Soldier has taken a turn for the crazy and hobo-esque as of the Pyromania update. The item set from that update casts him as a questionably paranoid Conspiracy Theorist living off expired soup and killing people with weapons made of junk metal after being kicked out of the apartment he shared with a wizard. He's already had situations in the past where he doesn't have the luxury of eating, so this trope is a pathetically hilarious continuation of his circumstances and his extant lack of grip on reality.
- The very first enemies that Johnny fights in Shadow Hearts: From the New World are the belligerent bums inhabitating the abandoned Erick Theatre.
- Used cunningly in Deus Ex where there are lots of crazy hobos walking around muttering about everything from government conspiracies to having seen aliens in the sewers and all in between. Most of them are just nuts but a few of them are telling the truth.
- A homeless person is the protagonist in Crazy Old Bag Lady.
- There's a recurring, homeless, black man in Polk Out. He's a murdering, drug-dealing rapist.
- The late Doctor Hobo in VG Cats. His speech was an endless stream of word salad, and his behavior ranged from "erratic" to "incomprehensible". He refers to a dead rodent as his cell phone, and seems to have convinced himself that he was a doctor.
- The Author Avatar of Least I Could Do's current artist is a fat homeless guy who draws for food.
- Melody from Sounds Like a Melody is a rare webcomcis example of an aversion/sympathetic version.
- Everyday Heroes has Scary Mary. She is definitely crazy, but has lately shown signs of being on to something.
- The Word Weary features a recurring homeless character named "Robert." Though sometimes the butt of jokes and occasionally wildly inappropriate, he's treated relatively sympathetically.
- That Guy with the Glasses features Bum Reviews, starring Chester A. Bum, who talks extremely fast, goes off on bizarre tangents, and says of every movie (except Citizen Kane), "OH MY GOD THIS IS THE GREATEST MOVIE I'VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE!"
- Because during the movie, he gets to be inside "a warm, warm building!"
- The usual Unfortunate Implications are averted though, as he's both utterly adorable and a total woobie.
- There is also Lester B. Bum and the late Spencer A. Bum.
- Senor Cardgage from Homestar Runner, who lives in a shrub, carries a plastic grocery bag of half-melted candy bars around with him, and is prone to malapropisms and calling people weird names. "Alonzo Mourning to you, Myrtlebeth. Say hello to my tackle box!"
- Michael Swaim of Agents of Cracked has not one, but two homeless wives.(One for the house, one for his car, you see) Both of them are appropriately nutty.
- Chuck Sonnenburg of SF Debris re-interprets Captain Jonathan Archer of Star Trek: Enterprise as this. From his review of "Strange New World":
Chuck: [Archer] rants at the drop of a hat, listens to things that aren't there, talks to dogs, gives rambling speeches, and does things without thinking about whether people will live or die. In other words, someone found him sleeping under a pile of newspapers in an alley muttering about putting cameras in his eyeballs, took off his tinfoil hat, and put him in charge of a starship.
- Hilariously parodied in an episode of South Park. At first, the sudden influx of homeless into the town is treated as a Zombie Apocalypse, though they moan for "change" rather than brains. Randy Marsh even kills one of his friends when it's revealed he lost his home, and is slowly turning into one of them. Later in the episode the boys go to a town that destroyed itself over the situation. You see, eventually some of them (somehow) amassed enough change to buy houses. The citizens of the town were freaked ("The person living right next door to you could be homeless and you wouldn't even know it!") and treating the homeless as something other than human, purged their town to devastation.
- The Simpsons:
- The Crazy Cat Lady.
- Homer pretends to be one of these for money and pulls it off surprisingly well.
- In one episode, the family meets a hobo while riding a freight train. He assures them that he's "a singing hobo, not a stabbing hobo", before launching into a song about "stabbing people with his hobo knife".
- Chief Wiggum takes his son Ralph with him to "talk sense into the raving lunatics".
Wiggum: Whoa, slow down sir, slow down ... who's stealing your thought?
- Assuming that Adventure Time 's crazy old Royal Tart Toter is a homeless drifter who spends his days wandering around and hurting himself, he definitely qualifies as this trope.
- Averted recently, in a newer episode. He's seen living in a mental hospital, and is doing a bit better.
- Spongy from King of the Hill. Been on the streets "Since Reagan kicked me out of my mental hospital"
- "Now, Spongy, you know he had a good reason for doing that."
- His portrayal, oddly enough, is fairly sympathetic, as Hank and his friends sympathize with Spongy and help him when some "cool" teenagers bully him off of his panhandling so they can do it themselves.
- The Spawn animated show featured the titular hero often conversing with, protecting, and living with the homeless. The portrayal of them varied. Often they were alcoholics and drug addicts, or at least mentally unhinged, but good people. The irony being that the homeless were often more morally grounded than the show's other characters who lived in relative wealth.
- Invader Zim: "I want my slaw!" "You have your slaw, Sir!" "I want my slaw!" "You have your slaw, Sir!" "I want my slaw!" "You have your slaw, Sir!" And on it goes.
- Dib also has a conversation with a hobo in a burger joint in "Gaz, Taster of Pork." As the homeless man leaves he suddenly kidnaps another patron and runs off without anyone noticing.
- Robot Chicken loves this trope. In one episode, they have thier own airline, complete with inflight movie performed by "Crazy Joe" ("You ain't got no legs, Lt. Dan!"). In another, a man navigates his daily life as if it were the game Dragon Quest complete with dodging a homeless man spouting lines like "I'm the president of jellybeans. Have some mustard cuz it's Easter!"
- An episode of Family Guy had Peter briefly convert to Mormanism. One of his wives was Linda, the homeless lady who yelled things outside the grocery store.
"I ate a tube of Crest for dinner!"
- In an episode of Captain Planet, Dr. Blight lures Gaia away from Hope Island and is able to neutralize her powers. The disoriented newly-mortal wanders into a homeless community containing mostly sane people now down on their luck but a few of the crazy variety (such as someone who thinks he's William Shakespeare) as well.
Gaia: Where am I?
Marge: You got Alzheimer's or something? You know who you are, don't ya'?
Gaia: I... I think so... I'm Gaia, the Spirit of the Earth.
Marge: She'll fit right in.
- In the Dexter's Laboratory episode "That's Using Your Head", Dexter meets a crazy old man who babbles nonsense ("Why stock three-wheels when the P-p-p-p-power Wheels outperform the rest? It's real simple, folks: we are not alone!") and wears a pile of electronics on his head. Dexter mistakes him for a Mad Scientist trying to make contact with aliens and tries to help him with his "invention".
- In Gravity Falls, we have Old Man McGucket, who even introduces himself as the "local kook" in one episode. His introduction in the episode "The Legend of the Gobblewonker" says it all.