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Street Urchin

One jump, ahead of the bread line
One swing, ahead of the sword
I steal, only what I can't afford - And that's everything!
— "One Jump Ahead", Disney's Aladdin

A kid, usually an orphan, who has lived on the streets for most of his short life. Survival is a matter of stealing whatever they need, doing odd jobs, and/or stuff you'd probably rather not think about. He may actually have a home or family, but the situation there may be so bad that living on the streets is preferable, or they're out stealing for their family's sake.

The vast majority of them usually grow up into street gangs or worse, but the ones we usually deal with have a run-in with the hero of the story. Older characters usually end up becoming an older brother or father to them, or at least friends.

Street Urchins are usually boys, but having the character suddenly revealed to be a tomboy is just as common. Not quite a Wholesome Crossdresser, she just really doesn't have the money for any feminine clothes. Not to mention that, in many places like this, it's probably for the best that some people not know you're a girl.

If the character seems perfectly happy with their lot in life and practically seems to thrive on the streets, then you have yourself The Artful Dodger. If this character grows up into a hardened survivor and is proud of his hungry years, you've got a Satisfied Street Rat. If your character isn't human, expect an Ear Notch or two.

A very sad case of Truth in Television, but far, far worse out here.

Examples

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    Anime 
  • Duo Maxwell in Gundam Wing is shown to have run in a gang of urchins in the prequel manga, Episode Zero. He ends up getting set on the path to being a Humongous Mecha pilot when terrorists hold his friends, and the Nun and Priest caring for them, and offers to steal a mobile suit to get them freed. He actually pulls it off, too, but true to his later persona as a Broken Hero, it doesn't end well.
    • The novelization of The Movie takes it a step further by showing his life before the church: he was the second-in-command of a group of street urchins lead by a young man named Solo. When Solo caught a nasty disease whose vaccine was reserved for the rich, the boy stole some but didn't make it back in time. He never got sick himself, which he attributed to Solo watching over him, and took on the name "Duo" to symbolize that they'd always be a team. Duo becomes the gang's new leader, which is where he is when his chapter of Episode Zero starts.
  • Hakuron in Haou Airen spent a while like this, until taken in by The Triads and the Tongs.
  • Kotaro Inugami in Mahou Sensei Negima! is a Half-Demon who, thanks to his nature, was able to survive by performing work as a mercenary. He ends up becoming a rival to Negi, follows him to Mahora, and ends up getting unofficially adopted by one of his students.
    • Also, Tohsaka used to be one as a kid.
  • Yahiko Myoujin in Rurouni Kenshin, after his Ill Girl mother's death.
  • In Bleach, Renji and Rukia were like this when they were kids. Kenpachi Zaraki and his lieutenant were a Darker and Edgier version of this.
    • Also, Gin and Rangiku.
  • Neneko in Yumeria seems to live on the streets most of the time.
  • In the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga, a young Ryouji Kaji grows up among a gang of war orphans; of course, since this is Evangelion, it all eventually ends in terrible tragedy.
  • Baccano!!'s Firo Prochainezo used to be one, being orphaned at age nine (and fatherless before that) and forced to make it on his own in one of New York's seedier neighborhoods. He stumbled into the Camorra after attempting to pick-pocket one of their higher-ranking executives.
    • Jacuzzi's delinquent gang is also composed of these.
  • This is part of Chibodee Crockett's history, before he was scouted by an agent and made it big in boxing.
    • Same goes to his Four Girl Ensemble, whom he specifically took in as he saw his past situation reflected in theirs.
  • Garrod Ran from After War Gundam X. He tells Tiffa in the second episode that he was at first raised by his widowed father, but then his dad died and found himself completely alone.
  • Meg from Burst Angel.
  • Brian Hawk from Hajime No Ippo has this past. In no way is this a Freudian Excuse for his behaviour, however.
  • In The Secret Agreement, Yuuichi, having been orphaned in the war (or so he thought), grows up on the streets but is able to turn himself into a Self-Made Man. He's not rich and he's still lower class, but he can comfortably support himself which is pretty good considering how he started off.
  • This is part of Alois' backstory in Black Butler.
  • Kei in the animated Iria Zeiram The Animation.
  • Luffy, his brother Ace and their other brother Sabo from One Piece spent their childhood together as a little gang of street urchins. They were particularly infamous amongst the local cooks for their skill at playing 'dine and ditch'.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, this was Chantez's lot in life until Sister Schach befriended her when the former tried to mug the latter, then raised her as a knight in training in the Saint Church.
  • Lupin III: Dead or Alive establishes the current tone/mood of the Zufu nation with a scene of an open-stall market, where people are arguing over the price of apples. When two boys hiding in a Totem Pole Trench are caught stealing apples, they run away from the proprietor, bringing the apples they stole back to their gang of a half-dozen group of similarly poorly clothed kids.

    Comic Book 
  • Storm from X-Men started out as one of these after an airplane crashed atop the Cairo home of her Black American father and Kenyan mother. She had a solid claim to being the best pickpocket and escape artist in the city by the time she hit puberty only to wander south along the Nile on impulse, have her powers kick in, and spend the bulk of her adolescence as a Weather Deity made manifest on the Serengeti.
    • To this day, her street urchin skills come in handy in combat. She hasn't met a lock she couldn't pick. In fact, when wearing a costume that features it, her tiara contains a number of lock picks.
    • Jubilee too. After the murder of her parents she spent a few years living on the streets of LA, doing fireworks shows with her abilities, before being picked up by the X-Men.
    • Gambit spent most of his young life being raised to be a thief by thieves in the streets and swamps of Louisiana. When he met Storm for the first time, she suffered from Laser-Guided Amnesia and briefly returned to her thieving ways. The two quickly became partners in crime.
  • Batman: The Post-Crisis incarnation of Jason Todd (Robin II).
    • Another DC comics example is Cindy "Gypsey" "Gypsy" Renolds Reynolds.
  • After his reincarnation by Thor, Loki spent some times as one of these in France, not having his godly memories or powers. He worked as a con artist with another unnamed child until Thor restored his memories (up to the age he was at, anyway)...
  • Sherri from The Crow. Renamed Sarah for the film.

    Fan Fic 
  • Dee from DJINN Way To Home left her foster parents after her foster father tried to molest her and lived on the streets for a year before the story begins, getting some help and advice from an experienced older homeless woman and passing herself off as a boy. She's actually Bifauxnen enough to fool Will when they first meet. Her experiences in the foster system and on the streets has given her the determination and skills to become a good Keeper of the Heart, but also ladens her with several severe personal issues.
  • Fan Works based on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic commonly characterise Scootaloo as such, due to the show's failure to provide any canon information on her family in over four seasons, and only once showing her living anywhere. A Taste Of The Good Life has her living in an abandoned restaurant, which is bought by the Main character.

    Film 
  • The Kid in Dick Tracy.
  • Jamal and his brother Salim in Slumdog Millionaire grew up like this after the slum they lived in was attacked during a religion riot.
  • The Dead End Kids, who starred in many gangster movies from the 1930's and 40's including Dead End and Angels with Dirty Faces. They always played the same characters, a gang of orphan kids living in the street and always up to no good.
  • Abu in The Thief of Bagdad.
  • The scary ass kids from the movie Hostel.
  • The movie Moulin Rouge! actually has a Can Can girl dressed as a street urchin.

     Literature  
  • Oliver Twist features a boy who becomes a street urchin as the titular character, as well as many others in various conditions as supporting characters.
  • When the titular character of Sherlock Holmes needed info from the street, he could always count on the Baker Street Irregulars, a gang of street urchins who have eyes and ears everywhere on the streets of London.
  • In Ben Kane's The Forgotten Legion, Romulus befriends a street urchin named Mattius.
  • Most of the characters in Les Misérables had this kind of childhood, but Gavroche in particular embodies the trope.
  • Vin from Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson was a street urchin who survived in relative physical and psychical health only because of her yet undeveloped but useful awesome magical talent.
  • In the Discworld novel Night Watch, the young Nobby Nobbs is described as a street urchin, on the grounds that he's small, prickly, and smells like fish. As the book was a pastiche of Les Miserables, he served as the stand-in for Gavroche.
  • Arya in A Song of Ice and Fire spends some time playing the street urchin, both genuinely and as part of learning to be a magical assassin. In the Dunk and Egg stories, Dunk recalls his earliest memories as an urchin in the slums of King's Landing. The streetfighting skills he learned there have saved him on more than one occasion.
  • The Enders Game series has the Shadow POV Sequels that star Bean. The first novel includes Bean's backstory, which reveals how he grew up in a street urchin gang, amoungst other, rival gangs. The leader who picked him up was named Poke, the cross-dressing kind of street urchin. Revealing this information was part of how Achilles had taken over control of her gang. Card got pretty graphic with his depections of street urchin life. The swollen bellies of hunger and just how much a meal counts, and the long-term emotional abnormality you get from trying to be self-sufficient so young. As badly as his heroes Angst about their selfish natures, his antagonists seem to revel in those same flaws.
  • Tamora Pierce started with one in her Circle of Magic series.
    • Briar, in his books, is always interacting with the street urchins from whatever town they're currently in. Briar's Book also had street kids in the opening, before it became a magical-epidemiology-procedural drama.
    • Briar picks up Evvy during Street Magic, the only "unganged" urchin he seems to ever meet. Evvy later got her own book.
  • Flinx from Alan Dean Foster's Pip and Flinx series. Not only is Flinx an orphan who lived on the streets, as an adult after being adopted he takes some under his wing that fit the definition perfectly.
  • Lyra from His Dark Materials is a rare voluntary example: she was born and raised among the posh, wealthy nobility of Oxford and knows every single licentiate in the Jordan College, but she spends her days fighting against the kids from the other neighborhoods, stealing stuff from the docks, and climbing and sneaking around Jordan College during the night.
  • Zael in Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novels of Ravenor.
  • Nan from Mercedes Lackey's The Wizard of London is a good example of one.
    • For that matter so was Skif, at least to start out with.
    • There was also another young Herald-Trainee in Arrows of the Queen who gets a mention on one of the Mage Winds books. He was one used for unsavory purposes.
  • Kim in Patricia C. Wrede's Mairelon the Magician. A girl disguised as a boy, and for good reason.
  • In the Outlander series, Fergus grew up this way, living in a whorehouse, unsure which of the ladies was his mother, until adopted by Jamie. In places it's a very dark take on this trope — for example, the fact that Fergus had also prostituted himself for money.
  • Stevie in the Caleb Carr novels The Alienist and Angel Of Death is a street urchin.
  • Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy has the girl Mickle and the sister-and-brother duo Sparrow and Weasel.
  • In the Borribles trilogy by Michael de Larrabeiti, street urchins are sort of the embryonic form of the immortal, elfin Borribles — particularly successful and cunning urchins "evolve" into Borribles.
  • Leisl in the Ravenloft novel Vampire of the Mists.
  • Jin Sato from Cryoburn, the latest installment of the Vorkosigan Saga, is a street urchin. Somewhat unusually for this trope, he hasn't been on the streets his whole life, and he left his aunt and uncle not because they were horribly abusive, but because his aunt threatened to get rid of some of his pets, which include a falcon, rats, three hens, and a three-legged cat. The real reason he couldn't stand living with his aunt and uncle is the way they've tried to obliterate the memory of his mother, out of fear of the Mega Corp. who had her frozen Miles thinks that he's The Artful Dodger or a single Baker Street Regular. This is a mistake.
  • Senka Skorik from Boris Akunin's He Lover of Death.
  • Mara from Mara, Daughter of the Nile combines this with being a slave. Her Establishing Character Moment in-universe is stealing a number of honey cakes from a baker—but even though she enjoys stealing and deception, she only does it out of necessity and dreams of a better life.
  • Mickey in Gene Stratton Porter's Michael O'Halloran, of the odd jobs variety. He still lives in the apartment where he had lived with his mother; she had been at pains to teach him how, so he could escape the Orphanage of Fear.
  • In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol story "Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks", Pummairam.
  • In Andre Norton's Storm Over Warlock, Shann's Backstory — by the time of the story he has a job with the Survey, though somewhat precarious.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress there are teenagers who "roam the corridors". Boys do so because their families couldn't find another family to marry them into, and girls do so because once they hit "husband high" no, not even their own mothers, can tell them what to do. They are called "Stilyagi," after the counterculture of 50s Russia.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's "Citizen of the Galaxy" the protagonist Thorby is first shown identifying as an Artful Dodger character, but adopting the public persona of a street urchin begging for alms. He adopts other tropic persona as the novel progresses.
  • Kindling Ashes: Giselle is an orphan who lies in an alley. Her introduction is a gold smuggling job in a sewer.

    Live Action TV 
  • Chiana in Farscape before she joined the crew.
  • Ariel the "Street Waif" from Kung Fu The Legend Continues, and yes, the guy who came up with that term was made fun of.
  • Lujan Linares was one (a "cartonerita") on Rebelde Way.
  • Gleb Zheglov from The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed was one in his childhood.
  • Vince Noir sometimes claims to have been one of these in his youth:
    Vince: I'm a cockney bitch! I'm a ragamuffin from the streets.
    Howard: You're a French Duke. You lie around in hammocks all day eating soft cheese.
  • El Chavo del ocho
  • Nancy and other kids from the Doctor Who episode "The Empty Child".
  • Power Rangers S.P.D.: Jack and Z were street rats at the beginning, and stole food and clothing for the other homeless people.
  • This is implied to be part of Marguerite's backstory in Sir Arthur Conan Doyles The Lost World: she had to evade gendarmes on the streets of Paris multiple times.
  • Detective Erin Lindsay on Chicago PD, prior to Sergeant Voight and his wife taking her in at age 16.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pathfinder Society organized play has a trait (a kind of perk only selectable at level 1) called "Child of the Streets", which is pretty much what it sounds like. It gives you a +1 bonus to Sleight of Hand skill checks and makes it your class skill if it wasn't already.

    Video Games 
  • Uncharted 3 reveals that Drake was this when he was a child.
  • Discworld has a stereotypical Street Urchin.
    • "Starfish, sir!"
  • In Angband, there's the "Filthy street urchin". Being a roguelike, you can kill them.
  • Marco from Skies of Arcadia.
  • Final Fantasy XII: Vaan and Penelo.
  • Annah from Planescape: Torment grew up as the "stealing for her family" variant.
  • Commander Shepard from Mass Effect, if one chooses the Earthborn Pre-Service History.
  • Shows up in many a Fanfiction involving Reno, but this seems to be Word of Dante more than anything else; his backstory really isn't mentioned.
  • Hector: Badge of Carnage episode 2 has Lambert meet one who is living in an abandoned fridge, lost his hand in a shoe shining accident and had it replaced by a hook. After he helps Lambert, Lambert ends up adopting him.
  • In Sampaguita, the 3rd game of the Yarudora series:
    • Main heroine Maria and her adopted older brother Boy were this in their early life in the Philippines. They were doing little jobs such as selling sampaguita flowers in the street crossroads, doing their best to survive. The game treats the player with a Flashback of these moments when Maria tells her past to the protagonist, after she has recovered her memories and fallen in love with him.
    • A secondary character, Randy Santiago, also tells he was a Filipino street urchin in his younger days, while talking to the protagonist and giving him info about the Philippines.
  • Garret, protagonist of Thief, used to be one. He got recruited into the order of the Keepers when he tried to pickpocket one of them (an impressive feat, considering they are masters of stealth).
  • Kian Alvane from Dreamfall: The Longest Journey reveals in Dreamfall Chapters to have been one before signing up as a Church Militant.

    Visual Novels 
  • Several characters are this in Rose Guns Days, starting with Wayne, who fled from his abusive foster family and survived alone before being picked up by Rose, after which he swears Undying Loyalty to her. Season 2 also introduces Charles, Nina and Oliver, who are among the many orphans created by the Great Disaster. They were picked up by an old man who offered them shelter in exchange for… taking music lessons. Because they were used to life in the streets though, their appartment is a little bit messy.

    Web Original 
  • Cathalie Meguro and Mitch Gunther of Survival of the Fittest, though they lived in an orphanage instead of on the streets.
  • Sahar, in the Whateley Universe. You do not want to be a girl who's an orphan on the streets of Baghdad. Her powers kick in when she's being dragged off by a pimp who plans to make some money using her body.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • Tim Drake is portrayed like this in Batman: The Animated Series, an amalgam of his comic origins and those of second Robin Jason Todd. His father was a criminal who ended up on the bad side of Two-Face, and he quickly found himself an orphan, just in time to get far too deep in the middle of one of Batman's cases.
  • Aladdin is one of many children who grew up on the streets of Agrabah. Jafar was all too keen to sacrifice Aladdin for his scheme because in his mind, who would miss one more vanished street rat?
  • An American Tail has a few of these, and Fievel, a child in search of his family, nearly becomes one himself.
  • Julian from Cybersix
  • Urchin from The Little Mermaid series.
  • In The Legend of Korra Mako and his little brother Bolin grew up on the streets, and are explicitly referred to as Street Urchins by Butakha, the pro-bending organizer. They ran numbers "and stuff" for the Triple Threat Triad, before being taken in by Toza, who mentored them in pro-bending and arranged to let them live in the arena's attic apartment. There's also young Skoochy, a boy who likes to serve as an informant.
    • Wan, who would become the very first Avatar, was one of these as well.
  • Word of God (or specifically of Jymn Magon) says that before he took up with Don Karnage's air pirates, TaleSpin's Kit Cloudkicker lived on his own, hitching rides or stowing away from one port to another.
  • Homnibus' adopted son Justin in The Smurfs episode "To Smurf A Thief" was one when he used to go by the name of Dipper.

Self-Made OrphanOrphaned IndexTeenage Wasteland
Staring KidYoungstersSuperior Successor
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