Vagrancy, in law, the condition of being without a definite place of residence or means of support. A person in such a condition is called a vagrant. Vagrants are also referred to as the homeless and as street people. Alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, and the inability to hold a job are common causes of vagrancy. In order to survive, some vagrants panhandle (beg), do odd jobs, or work as day laborers; some steal or become involved in other criminal activities. Vagrants live on the streets or sometimes find temporary housing in cheap hotels, called “flop-houses,” or in overnight shelters provided by various groups, such as the Salvation Army.
Traditionally, vagrants have been single men. However, a growing number of the homeless are single women with children. In addition to arranging temporary shelter, groups who aid the homeless often provide personal counseling and help in finding employment.
Most states and cities had vagrancy laws, which prohibited loafing or loitering. The laws were often used to arrest persons considered undesirable by the community, although they were doing nothing that ordinarily would be illegal. A 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision made most vagrancy laws unconstitutional.