Identified during the colonial era as "sturdy beggars," "the wandering poor," or as vagrants, the homeless first became manifest in the late eighteenth century, then escalated considerably in number after 1820, when industrial development and urbanization began to take place in the nation.

"Under the Elizabethan poor laws that governed colonial New England towns, each town shouldered responsibility for the care of its own poor" (Rossi 17).  Newcomers must request for permission to stay in the town. Those expected to become town liabilities were often denied of settlement rights and required to leave town. As a result, a kind of transient poor emerged.

In a predominantly agricultural society, diminutive dishonor was associated with being destitute, and the integration of different economic activities helped immunize most people against the consequences of unemployment and economic uncertainty.

By the 1840s and 1850s, municipalities were reserving places in police stations for overnight lodging of the penniless, and organized charities began to fight with the problem of the homeless for the first time.


Police station "tramp rooms" provided free overnight lodging for the poor.