Is your grandmother “a beggar, bag lady, derro, hobo”? No? Chances are she’s just dispossessed

Who are the homeless?

If you look you look at synonyms for the word homeless you will see something like the following:

plural noun: the homeless; adjective: homeless
  1. (of a person) without a home, and therefore typically living on the streets.

    synonyms: without a roof over one’s head, on the streets, vagrant, sleeping rough, living rough;
    destitute, down and out, derelict, itinerant;
    of no fixed abode;
    homeless people, vagrants, down-and-outs, tramps, beggars, vagabonds, itinerants, transients, migrants, derelicts, drifters, beachcombers;
    bagmen, knockabouts, overlanders, sundowners, whalers;
    bag ladies;
    bums, bindlestiffs;
    people of no fixed abode


The rest of us

What about the rest of us? There is no doubt that the list of synonyms above is actually how the world pictures a homeless person. So how do we refer to those people who are homeless for no better reason than flat-lined fixed incomes and massively inflating house prices forced them out of the housing market?

The first group – that some say is no more than 6% of the homeless* – are homeless for reasons other than house prices. They are homeless as the result of a personal crisis that they were not able to get beyond without help.

The second group – presumably the remaining 94%* – are homeless for one reason and one reason only, they are poor. They are on fixed incomes, low incomes or some form of pension payment, and simply can no longer afford basic rentals. This figure is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000, but we cannot be sure because the census has no way of collecting accurate figures.

Some in the second group may have started in the first group. Women escaping violent men will find themselves in refuges for a while before they were re-housed. But if they were not re-housed in public or community housing, they will have re-entered the state of homelessness as rents have inflated beyond the reach of their pensions and limited earning capacity. However, most of us are finding ourselves without a place to call home for the first time in their lives. And it’s a shock.

We are the dispossessed

We are the dispossessed. Pensioners and low income earners who can no longer afford rentals have been forced out of the housing market through no fault of our own. We may eventually default on rent when it becomes a choice of food or rent, but most have managed our lives perfectly well before house and land speculation went mad.

We did not do something that resulted in our homelessness. Something was done to us . We were dispossessed.

past tense: dispossessed; past participle: dispossessed
  1. deprive (someone) of land, property, or other possessions.
    “they were dispossessed of lands and properties during the Reformation”
    synonyms: divest, strip, rob, cheat out of, do out of, deprive, relieve, bereave, reave;
    diddle out of;
    “the peasants have been dispossessed of their land”
    dislodge, oust, eject, expel, drive out, evict, turn out, cast out, throw out, throw someone out on their ear, put out in the street, show someone the door;
    banish, exile;
    chuck out, kick out, boot out, heave out, bounce, defenestrate;
    turf out;
    give someone the bum’s rush;
    “the rebels appear to have dispossessed the aristocrats”


It is hard now to identify who has kicked us out of our homes. We can make some guesses and Dick Smith has done a good job of documenting many of the possible reasons why housing has become un-affordable. But there is no doubt that there is now a class of people who have been dispossessed of their homes and their place in society by another class of people who are getting rich by speculating on the houses that were once our homes.

We are the dispossessed.



For discussion on how inaccurate our homeless figures are, read Ghost-hunting: will the census reveal the true scale of homelessness in Australia?

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2 thoughts on “Is your grandmother “a beggar, bag lady, derro, hobo”? No? Chances are she’s just dispossessed

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  1. Suggestion and idea: provide evidence of the questions asked in the census. We could lobby for changes here which would provide more concise data.
    Suggestion: provide a link to Dick Smith’s efforts.

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