Vagrancy is the condition of a person who wanders from place to place homeless without regular employment or income, referred to as a vagrant, vagabond, rogue, tramp or drifter. Vagrants usually live in poverty and support themselves by begging, temporary work, petty theft, garbage scraping or, where available, welfare.

Historically, vagrancy in Western societies was associated with petty crime, begging and lawlessness, and punishable by law by imprisonment, forced labor, forced military service, or confinement to dedicated labor houses. The word vagrant is often conflated with the term homeless person, which does not necessarily include the wandering component. In modern societies, anti-homelessness legislation aims to both help and re-house homeless people on one side, and criminalize homelessness and begging on the other.

Both vagrant and vagabond ultimately derive from the Latin word vagari, meaning “wander”. The term vagabond is derived from Latin vagabundus. In Middle English, vagabond originally denoted a criminal.


In the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, the members of numerous different subordinate and extra-ordinary social groups were described as moving people (also traveling people or travelers). The range of the lawless outsiders expanded and differentiated in the Middle Ages. Members of the “lower people” – that is, the social underclasses – outside the hierarchy and without a permanent residence were regarded as varende lute, a derogatory term that was connoted with crime and dishonesty (dishonesty).

Historical names for the members of this socially, culturally and ethnically heterogeneous population of summarily as “homeless rabble” Stigmatisierten were z. B. “Gängler”, “Landfahrer”, “vagrants”, “Landläufer” (see the term used in the Netherlands until today landloper) or “vagabonds”. From the point of view of a work-shy, assumed to be a collective personality trait, they were also considered “foreign idlers “. In the 19th century, the term “Wanderer” came on, later also “non-sedentary”.

“Driving” is not to be understood in its present meaning. Until well into the 19th century, when caravans were the means of transport and accommodation, “travelers” were mostly on foot with perhaps a two-wheeled cart as a dog team or on their own.

In place of the folkloric term “travelers” is common European, but also as a common today’s German self-title travelers. Summary names for the descendants of the historical groups are self- as as foreign name in French gens du voyage, in the Anglo-Saxon language Travelers, in Swedish or Norwegian resandefolket or travelers and in the Netherlands delightful. In English, the term borders on Roma.

Forms of Inclusion
Socially and economically, the members of the minority, in contrast to the rules on the compulsion and exclusion of the authorities and professional corporations, were in fact closely linked with the majority population. Their economic contributions, above all to supplying the rural population with goods and services, were indispensable. Their entertainment offers were generally appreciated and often formed the focal point of rural and urban festivities.

There was a vast number of such groups. The affiliations overlapped. The lists of case groups in the defense regulations give a picture of the variety of emergency operations with which those affected tried to survive in economic niches. For example, in the year 1586, a Siegerländer recording and tolerance ban counted on:

” Gypsies, tramps, homeless gardeners, gangsters with Geygen, Leyren and other side play, rascals, patronage, spokespersons, land beggars trained for idleness, sturgeons, Zanbrechers, and all kinds of things are all over Verretherey, murder, steal, steal, burn and other misfortunes abstarcted, item fortune-tellers, Teuffelsfenger, Christallenseher, Segensprecher, which help themselves before physicians, humans and viehe, give out. ”

A regulatory police writing of the late 18th Century called

” Scheer grinder, port binding, Kessler, Pfannenfliker, Kannengiesser, Wannenfliker, basket makers, brush-makers, Bücherbeschläger, buckle and Glockengiesser, sawing Feiler, drill maker, skinners and executioner, Kümmig-, oil, herbs, Wurzeln- and powder distributors, comb, Leist – or Zwekschneider, Hechelspizer, Tabakspfeiffenmacher, Hutschwärzer, printer, musicians, entertainers and Krämer with a variety of goods. ”

Cultural and Ethnic Diversity
In addition to since the end of the 18th century sometimes referred to as Jenische designated crowded out of mainstream society “propelled” of the various scenic and national origin included as each ethnic autonomous groups traveling Roma and “Schnorr” – or “beggar-Jews” to this ” Subculture of the street “.

In view of the heterogeneity of this part of the population, it is not possible to estimate the share of the total population, especially of the whole of Europe, more than extremely roughly. Five to ten percent, according to the literature, a middle estimate for the 18th century. He was able to rise rapidly in the course of the regularly occurring hunger crises and war devastation.

Although a clear demarcation is impossible to distinguish from the historic traveling people groups whose relatives although also pursued a labor migration in narrower or wider circulation areas, but were incorporated into a subject group, and therefore not “abandoned”: wandering journeyman (artisans on the Walz, also Freireisende), unzünftige artisans (Bönhasen), far-traveling merchants and stationary beggars.

Today’s forms of acquisition migration and horizontal mobility – movement in geographical space, not in the area of hierarchical social stratification – do not capture the construct of “driving people”, even though there are structural similarities and similarities.

Since marginalization and exclusion processes and their consolidation are not ethnic or regional peculiarities, but universal and supernatural, there were and are socioculturally similar population groups as those in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period under “driving people” subsumed elsewhere, such as the Burakumin in Japan, the Sarmastaari in Baluchistan or the Gadawan Kura (“hyena humans”), who travel through Nigeria as jugglers and miracle healers.

In Switzerland, on the other hand, Travelers is a state-official and legal term. There he refers to the Manouches (synonymous with Sinti) and Yenis with Swiss citizenship – recognized as cultural and “national minorities” – not as individual groups, but only together.

In settled, ordered communities, vagrants have been historically characterised as outsiders, embodiments of otherness, objects of scorn or mistrust, or worthy recipients of help and charity. Some ancient sources show vagrants as passive objects of pity, who deserve generosity and the gift of alms. Others show them as subversives, or outlaws, who make a parasitical living through theft, fear and threat. Some fairy tales of medieval Europe have beggars cast curses on anyone who was insulting or stingy towards them. In Tudor England, some of those who begged door-to-door for “milk, yeast, drink, pottage” were thought to be witches.

Many world religions, both in history and today, have strong vagrant traditions. In Christianity, Jesus is seen in the Bible teaching compassion for beggars, prostitutes, and the disenfranchised himself, telling his followers to give away their possessions and becoming wanderers themselves. These traditions dominated early Christian movements and were encouraged by notable figures such as St. Paul. Many still survive in places like Europe, Africa, and the Near East, as preserved by Gnosticism, Hesychasm, and various esoteric practices. The Catholic church also teaches compassion for people living in vagrancy and many Christian denominations recognize various aspects of ascetic teachings that are found in scripture.

In some East Asian and South Asian countries, the condition of vagrancy has long been historically associated with the religious life, as described in the religious literature of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Muslim Sufi traditions. Examples include sadhus, dervishes, Bhikkhus and the sramanic traditions generally.

West Germany since 1945
Bavaria issued 1953 a so-called Landfahrerordnung. This regulation should make people with nomadic lifestyle the local residence, scare them from there. The Bavarian politicians avoided the word Gypsies because they assumed that they could undermine the prohibition of racial discrimination according to Art. 3 (3) of the Basic Law. The speech was about “landlord families” or “land driver hordes” whose surveillance police politicians transmitted. In the Implementing Provisions of the Bavarian Ministry of Interior, the land-use characteristic was defined as follows:

“For the determination of the land vehicle characteristic, the nomadic way of life is decisive, which manifests itself in the fact that a person without a permanent residence or despite his own residence not only moves around unsteadily in the country in the Gypsy way.”

This Landfahrerordnung was until 1970 Bavarian state law.

In other states, Bavarian legislation was perceived as exemplary, but not adopted. A nationwide approach did not exist. Statistical suspected criminal activities that were accused of Sinti and Roma could not be confirmed: in 1954, 1,743 Sinti and Roma were found among 1.1 million suspects nationwide. In sum, their number was too small to be able to continue the previous police practices from before 1945.

The travelers continued to be discriminated against as far as they could be concealed from the public. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, since 1954, the provincial government has promoted an administrative practice to deny Sinti and Roma German citizenship by requiring them to provide detailed documentary proof that they were rightfully holding a German passport. This was not easy to prove, given the administrative action of 1933-1945. The compensation offices and police authorities consistently drew on the expertise of officials who had been involved in the persecution and murder of Sinti and Roma before 1945.

It was not until the 1980s that the systematic recording of persons and the constant harassment of “gypsies” by the police authorities became more prominent in the eyes of a liberal public. In Hamburg, the police had z. In 1981, for example, a six-month-old child from a Sinto family was registered as a police source of danger. In front of the BKA building in Wiesbaden in 1983 Sinti and Roma demonstrated against the fact that in the then intensified police data collection the characteristic “ZN” was registered, for “gypsy name”. Until then, this had been a common practice of anti-Gypsy policing for decades.

After the reunification of Germany
At least since the 1990s, even the inclusion of the Sinti and Roma in the state official commemoration of the Nazi murder practice has taken place. Since 2013, individual representatives of the Federal Court of Justice have distanced themselves from the prevailing case law of the 1950s, without having so far been formally revised judgments.

Legal, social and economic exclusion
Some of the population was poor and unable to access their own resources in times of need. Those who had no access to the scarce municipal support usually slipped into nothingness and were referred to an emergency economy. In crisis situations, the number of these people jumped. A large proportion of the underclass were so constantly threatened by homelessness and nothingness. The permanent emergency situation forced the members of the vagrant population part usually exert more activities side by side or in the temporal sequence and often at the same time begging, To ensure survival were also typical forms of small delinquency. Related abusive names were in the vernacular (“Riemenstecher” or ” bag cutter ” at church festivals and fairs).

State toleration, toleration and prohibition of admission legally excluded vague poverty from organized subjects and forced a life of illegality on the streets and in the forests. They extended to the contact and work prohibition, this formally secured also by admission prohibitions into the professional corporations. As part of the administrative expansion of European countries, the number of exclusion rules since the second half of the 17th Century increased sharply.

The legal exclusion was justified with the general suspicion of criminal or at least harm community behavior. A remainder of the strict legal exclusion remained “well into the 20th century with the offense of vagrancy received”. At least in German-speaking Central Europe, the corresponding regulations were removed from criminal law in the course of social and legal reforms in the last quarter of a century.

In the poverty society, the out-of-state and subordinate population groups continued to receive increasing numbers of people from the stationary lower classes during economic crises and military campaigns. Since a reintegration remained largely excluded into mainstream society or even a social advancement, the membership began to migrate poverty for generations continued time. It solidified in a ” culture of poverty “.

Vagrancy laws

In the first version of the national Penal Code (Sr) that was established in 1809, vagrancy was included as a crime, roaming without demonstrable means of existence was made punishable. The idea behind this was that someone who was strong enough to travel around was also strong enough to work. That there was often no employment was ignored. The vagrants who were arrested were often ’employed’ in the east of the Netherlands, where they worked on land reclamation in a kind of prison camp. A well-known device for vagrants was Esserheem in Veenhuizen. Later, like begging, it was punishable as a violation (article 432-434 Sr).

In the 20th century the number of convictions dropped sharply: In 1904, 1920 people were condemned, in 1938 710 and in 1963 only 27. In 2000, vagrancy in the Netherlands was removed from the Criminal Code. On the BES islands, vagrancy, as well as begging, was and still is a violation (Article 451-453 of the BES Penal Code).

From 27 November 1891, a vagabond could be jailed. Vagabonds, beggars and procurers were imprisoned in vagrancy prisons: Hoogstraten; Merksplas; and Wortel (Flanders). There, the prisoners had to work for their living by working on the land or in the prison workhouse. If the prisoners had earned enough money, then they could leave the “colony” (as it was called). On 12 January 1993, the Belgian vagrancy law was repealed. At that time, 260 vagabonds still lived in the Wortel colony.

Finland and Sweden
In premodern Finland and Sweden, vagrancy was a crime, which could result in a sentence of forced labor or forced military service. There was a “legal protection” (Finnish: laillinen suojelu) obligation: those not part of the estates of the realm (nobility, clergy, burghers or land-owners) were obliged to be employed, or otherwise, they could be charged with vagrancy. Legal protection was mandatory already in medieval Swedish law, but Gustav I of Sweden began strictly enforcing this provision, applying it even when work was potentially available. In Finland, the legal protection provision was repealed in 1883; however, vagrancy still remained illegal, if connected with “immoral” or “indecent” behavior. In 1936, a new law moved the emphasis from criminalization into social assistance. Forced labor sentences were abolished in 1971 and anti-vagrancy laws were was finally repealed in 1987.

In Germany, according to the 1871 Penal Code (§ 361 des Strafgesetzbuches von 1871), vagabondage was among the grounds to confine a person to a labor house.

In the Weimar Republic, the law against vagrancy was relaxed, but it became much more stringent in Nazi Germany, where vagrancy, together with begging, prostitution, and “work-shyness” (arbeitsscheu), was classified “asocial behavior” as punishable by confinement to concentration camps.


Russian Empire
In the Russian Empire, the legal term “vagrancy” (Russian: бродяжничество, brodyazhnichestvo) was defined in another way than corresponding terms (vagabondage, Landstreicherei) in Western Europe. Russian law recognized one as a vagrant if he could not prove his own standing (title), or if he changed his residence without a permission from authorities, rather than punishing loitering or absence of livelihood. Foreigners who had been twice expatriated with prohibition of return to the Russian Empire and were arrested in Russia again were also recognized as vagrants. Punishments were harsh: According to Ulozhenie, the set of currently empowered laws,[clarification needed] a vagrant who could not elaborate on his kinship, standing, or permanent residence, or gave false evidence, was sentenced to 4-year imprisonment and subsequent exile to Siberia or another far-off province.

Soviet Union
In the Criminal Code of the RSFSR (1960) (ru), which came into force on 1 January 1961, systematic vagrancy (that which was identified more than once) was punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment (section 209).

This continued until 5 December 1991, when Section 209 was repealed and vagrancy ceased to be a criminal offence.

Russian Federation
At present, vagrancy is not a criminal offence in Russia, but it is an offence for someone over 18 to induce a juvenile (one who has not reached that age) to vagrancy, according to Chapter 20, Section 151 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The note, introduced by the Federal Law No. 162 of 8 December 2003, provides that the section does not apply, if such act is performed by a parent of the juvenile under harsh life circumstances due to the loss of livelihood or the absence of living place.

In France, the distinctive features of vagrancy are the lack of a certain place of residence, means of subsistence and occupation, which makes it possible to obtain these. In the presence of these conditions, vagrancy is seen as an offense punishable. This is usually motivated by the fact that people without a source of fire and fishing (French gens sans aveu, as the French legislation expresses it), existing at the expense of the rest of the population and unrelated, represent a very dangerous social element that delivers, as criminal statistics indicate, the largest percentage of all kinds of criminals.

United Kingdom
The Ordinance of Labourers 1349 was the first major vagrancy law in England and Wales. The ordinance sought to increase the available workforce following the Black Death in England by making idleness (unemployment) an offence. A vagrant was a person who could work but chose not to, and having no fixed abode or lawful occupation, begged. Vagrancy was punishable by human branding or whipping. Vagrants were distinguished from the impotent poor, who were unable to support themselves because of advanced age or sickness. In the Vagabonds Act 1530, Henry VIII decreed that “beggars who are old and incapable of working receive a beggar’s licence. On the other hand, [there should be] whipping and imprisonment for sturdy vagabonds. They are to be tied to the cart-tail and whipped until the blood streams from their bodies, then they are to swear on oath to go back to their birthplace or to serve where they have lived the last three years and to ‘put themselves to labour’. For the second arrest for vagabondage the whipping is to be repeated and half the ear sliced off; but for the third relapse the offender is to be executed as a hardened criminal and enemy of the common weal.”

In the Vagabonds Act 1547, Edward VI ordained that “if anyone refuses to work, he shall be condemned as a slave to the person who has denounced him as an idler. The master has the right to force him to do any work, no matter how vile, with whip and chains. If the slave is absent for a fortnight, he is condemned to slavery for life and is to be branded on forehead or back with the letter S; if he runs away three times, he is to be executed as a felon…If it happens that a vagabond has been idling about for three days, he is to be taken to his birthplace, branded with a red hot iron with the letter V on his breast, and set to work, in chains, on the roads or at some other labour…Every master may put an iron ring round the neck, arms or legs of his slave, by which to know him more easily.”

In England, the Vagabonds Act 1572 passed under Elizabeth I, defined a rogue as a person who had no land, no master, and no legitimate trade or source of income; it included rogues in the class of vagrants or vagabonds. If a person were apprehended as a rogue, he would be stripped to the waist, whipped until bleeding, and a hole, about the compass of an inch about, would be burned through the cartilage of his right ear with a hot iron. A rogue who was charged with a second offense, unless taken in by someone who would give him work for one year, could face execution as a felony. A rogue charged with a third-offense would only escape death if someone hired him for two years.

The Vagabonds Act of 1572 decreed that “unlicensed beggars above fourteen years of age are to be severely flogged and branded on the left ear unless someone will take them into service for two years; in case of a repetition of the offence, if they are over eighteen, they are to be executed, unless someone will take them into service for two years; but for the third offence they are to be executed without mercy as felons.” The same act laid the legal groundwork for the enforced exile (transportation) of “obdurate idlers” to “such parts beyond the seas as shall be assigned by the Privy Council”. At the time, this meant exile for a fixed term to the Virginia Company’s plantations in America. Those who returned unlawfully from their place of exile faced death by hanging.

The Vagabonds Act 1597 banished and transplanted “incorrigible and dangerous rogues” overseas.

In Das Kapital (Capital Volume One, Chapter Twenty-Eight: Bloody Legislation Against the Expropriated, from the End of the 15th Century. Forcing Down of Wages by Acts of Parliament), Karl Marx wrote:

‘James 1: Any one wandering about and begging is declared a rogue and a vagabond. Justices of the peace in petty sessions are authorised to have them publicly whipped and for the first offence to imprison them for 6 months, for the second for 2 years. Whilst in prison they are to be whipped as much and as often as the justices of the peace think fit… Incorrigible and dangerous rogues are to be branded with an R on the left shoulder and set to hard labour, and if they are caught begging again, to be executed without mercy. These statutes, legally binding until the beginning of the 18th century, were only repealed by 12 Anne, c. 23.’

In late eighteenth century Middlesex, those suspected of vagrancy could be detained by the constable or watchman and brought before a magistrate who had the legal right to interview them to determine their status. If declared vagrant, they were to be arrested, whipped, and physically expelled from the county by a vagrant contractor, whose job it was to take them to the edge of the county and pass them to the contractor for the next county on the journey. This process would continue until the person reached his or her place of legal settlement, which was often but not always their place of birth.

In 1795, the Speenhamland system (also known as the Berkshire Bread Act) tried to address some of the problems that underlay vagrancy. The Speenhamland system was a form of outdoor relief intended to mitigate rural poverty in England and Wales at the end of the 18th century and during the early 19th century. The law was an amendment to the Elizabethan Poor Law. It was created as an indirect result of Britain’s involvements in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793–1815).

In 1821, the existing vagrancy law was reviewed by a House of Commons Select Committee, resulting in the publication of the, ‘Report from the Select Committee on The Existing Laws Relating to Vagrants’. After hearing the views of many witnesses appearing before it the Select Committee made several recommendations. The Select Committee found that the existing vagrancy laws had become overly complicated and that they should be amended and consolidated into a single Act of Parliament. The payment of fixed rewards for the apprehension and taking vagrants before Magistrates had led to abuses of the system. Due to the Poor Laws, vagrants to receive and poverty relief had to seek it from the Parish where they were last legally settled, often the Parish where they were born. This led to a system of convicted vagrants being ‘passed’ from Parish to Parish from where they had been convicted and punished to their own parish. The ‘Pass’ system led to them being transported by vagrancy contractors, a system found to be open to abuses and fraud. It also found that in many instances the punishment for vagrancy offences were insufficient and certain types of vagrants should be given longer prison sentences and made to complete hard labour during it.

Based on the findings and recommendations from the 1821 House of Commons Select on Vagrancy, a new Act of Parliament was introduced, ‘An Act for the Punishment of Idle and Disorderly Persons, and Rogues and Vagabonds, in that Part of Great Britain called England’, commonly known as the Vagrancy Act 1824. The Vagrancy Act 1824 consolidated the previous vagrancy laws and addressed many of the frauds and abuses identified during the Select Committee hearings. Much reformed since 1824, some of the offences included in it are still enforceable.

United States
After the American Civil War, some southern states passed Black Codes, laws that tried to control the hundreds of thousands of freed slaves. In 1866, the State of Virginia, fearing that it would be “overrun with dissolute and abandoned characters”, passed an Act Providing for the Punishment of Vagrants. Homeless or unemployed persons could be forced into labour on public or private works, for very low pay, for a statutory maximum of three months; if fugitive and recaptured, they must serve the rest of their term at minimum subsistence, wearing ball and chain. In effect, though not in declared intent, the Act criminalized attempts by impoverished freedpeople to seek out their own families and rebuild their lives. The commanding general in Virginia, Alfred H. Terry, condemned the Act as a form of entrapment, the attempted reinstitution of “slavery in all but its name”. He forbade its enforcement. It is not known how often it was applied, or what was done to prevent its implementation, but it remained statute in Virginia until 1904.

Since at least as early as the 1930s, a vagrancy law in America typically has rendered “no visible means of support” a misdemeanor, yet it has commonly been used as a pretext to take one into custody for such things as loitering, prostitution, drunkenness, or criminal association. The criminal statutes of law in Louisiana specifically criminalize vagrancy as associating with prostitutes, being a professional gambler, being a habitual drunk, or living on the social welfare benefits or pensions of others. This law establishes as vagrants all those healthy adults who are not engaged in gainful employment.

In the 1960s, laws proven unacceptably broad and vague were found to violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Such laws could no longer be used to obstruct the “freedom of speech” of a political demonstrator or an unpopular group. Ambiguous vagrancy laws became more narrowly and clearly defined.

In Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a Florida vagrancy law was unconstitutional because it was too vague to be understood.

Nevertheless, new local laws in the U.S. have been passed to criminalize aggressive panhandling.

In the U.S., some local officials encourage vagrants to move away instead of arresting them. The word vagrant is often conflated with the term homeless person. Prosecutions for vagrancy are rare, being replaced by prosecutions for specific offenses such as loitering.

Source from Wikipedia