As far as I can tell, through countless hours of research, there is no definitive line that separates the Hobos from the Homeless. The statistics (which I consider to be somewhat outdated) indicate that on any given night here in America there is between one and two million people sleeping on the streets, in boxes tucked away in alleys and in the drainage ditches available in almost every city in the country.
From my personal research, I've found these misplaced and discarded humans to be considerably more generous and beneficent than the average middle-class American. They've given me their last ten or twenty cents and I've returned the favor every time I have any change in my pocket (which, much to my dismay, is not all that often anymore). The times I've felt unsafe have been few and far between.
I am beginning to believe that the disparity between privilege and poverty is most clearly defined by the kindness of those who've known poverty. Back in the day (the late 1800's) the very first Hobo Convention was held and a code of ethics was developed that still holds true today. I believe the consequences of our economy have increased the homeless/hobo numbers ten fold (at least) and there are now new considerations and symbols.
I am a hobo who travels with a laptop and a pre-pay cell phone. I have had great success in finding free wireless in every city I have jungled in, thanks to warchalking.In addition to those symbols, there is a whole new set of symbols that make it easier for the modern day hobo to identify safe harbor from danger.
The vagabond lifestyle is not something that I'd wish for my best friend, but it has provided me with an entirely new perspective on our culture and our priorities.
While there are times that I miss owning stuff (clothes, electronics and a cat) there are more times that I am ridiculously grateful to know that I'm not a burden to my children. Should you see a homeless, humble and dignified person in your path, don't go out of your way to avoid them. Even a smile given freely to someone sitting on a street corner can make a day so much better.