Hobo Chic

If the slumping economy is bringing you nightmares straight from the 80's of a suffering stock market, inflated cost of living, and an inexplicable rise in the popularity of MC Hammer pants, you're not alone. Today, even the typically robust Austin housing market posted a 4% drop in housing prices over last year. Not a good sign. And cities across America have been so hard hit by the recent wave of foreclosures that tent cities have sprung up like mushrooms in the shadow of a dark econolyptic fallout cloud.

sacramento tent city

For now, Sacramento, CA, appears to be the capital of Hooverville, thanks in part to efforts by the Governator to set aside sanctioned areas for what one can only hope will be temporary living quarters.


SF Gate ran a sad story with lots of pictures featuring people eating out of tin cans and drying wet blankets on clotheslines, straight out of a Walker Evans/James Agee report on the 30's dustbowl. But somehow I find this image of a guy playing frisbee with his dog the saddest. Dude, that is a tire.

Now hubby and I are fortunate enough to live a comfortable -- if modest -- life. But we've got a baby on the way so he's (at least temporarily) the sole breadwinner, and if hubby got laid off we'd be living in a tent down by the river faster than you could say, "Rest in peace, Chris Farley."

My point is that it could happen to any of us, so I think we need to come up with a contingency plan, because I don't want to live in a filthy tent while my poop smeared baby plays with tires. I want to be homeless in style.

abandoned detroit houses

Plan 1: Squat in one of these amazing abandoned Detroit homes. Detroit's real estate market has been decimated so completely that the median home price there has fallen to $18k, and an increasing number of people are fleeing the city center and moving outwards.

abandoned detroit houses

It's a sad fact that real estate is all about location, location, location, because any one of these homes would fetch $500k plus in an historic Austin neighborhood. Since I'll never be able to afford to buy one of those, I imagine that I would enjoy playing house in a ramshackle Victorian, Craftsman, or even a crumbling farmhouse, while blissfully ignoring the hoopty whips, potholes and plywood doors all around me. Beggars can't be choosers, right?

origami house

Plan 2: Build a cardboard spaceship and wait to be rescued by aliens, because you know Calgon ain't gonna take you away.

carboard house

Seriously, Miwa Takabayashi designed this cardboard structure to fit inside a mall, so that it could serve as a "refuge for our over-simulated and consumer-driven world." Or it could serve as a house in our very under-stimulated world. If you still want to pitch your cardboard tent inside the ghost mall, that's your own decision; I'm sure the mall would be grateful to have even the appearance of consumers these days.

nothing cardboard office

As long as I'm living in a cardboard house, I'd like a matching cardboard office. Obviously existentialist creative agency, Nothing, set up this corrugated funhouse in Amsterdam.

carboard house

cardboard office

True, I may have to scale back the designs a wee bit to fit inside my space pod, but I'm pretty stoked that I can steal electricity from the mall and run it through cardboard. That's not a fire hazard, is it? At any rate, I'm going to need a place to plug in my computer so I can keep blogging. Joblessness should leave us with some extra time on our hands.

Oh, ok. Maybe these sweet structures aren't really in keeping with the whole "Tent City" vibe.

wall house

Plan 3: Live in a house that looks like a tent. See, it's a house, but it has a tent facade! It should blend right in with the other homeless homes, right?

wall house

What? It's totally down to earth. Look how minimal it is, what with the plywood walls, no pillow action and cheap folding chairs. Ok, so although it's restrained, it's not exactly living free. The glass alone must have cost a mint, but maybe I could fake it with some sticks and saran wrap?

FINE. I'll take it down another notch.

studio orta

Plan 4: Live in an actual tent city. Is this proletarian enough for you? Look enough like a tent city? Because that's what it is. Tents. Together. Forming a city. Well, if I have to live in an actual tent, I'd at least like it to be pretty and colorful, like these tents set up by Studio Orta.


Whee, so whimisical with the colorful flags emblazoned on the sides -- I feel uplifted already. On my tent, we'd fly the flags of Cardboard Corner and Derelict Drive, to show solidarity with our homeless sistahs and bruddahs. Now I know not a lot of stuff will fit into this tiny tent, but besides the obvious necessities -- hubby, fetus, soap -- I'm bringing one other, very important accessory:


My ratty tatty blankie that I've had since I was born. You'd have to pry this little scrap of security from my cold, dead hands in order to make me part with it. Besides, in Hooverville, the well worn look is in.

If you had to live in a tent, what one special item would you bring? Think of it as Hobo Survivor.