John Reinhard Dizon’s King Of The Hoboes addresses one of America’s most plaguing yet culturally integral situations in our nation’s history. Homelessness has been both a social stigma and a way of life for millions of people for centuries. The dichotomy is addressed in the novel throughout the narratives focusing on Veronika Heydrich and Adolf Hyatt. We see Veronika immersing herself into the homeless environment as part of her undercover assignment, doing so out of duty rather than personal choice. Hyatt has been part of the Hobo Underground for most of his life, choosing the lifestyle rather than being forced by circumstance. Their experiences provide an ideal paradigm in analyzing perspectives on this social phenomenon.
Relationships are a major factor in the transitional process as most homeless people become estranged from their families due to the stigma associated with financial hardship. At first they shun the company of other homeless persons who they consider associates by chance rather than choice. Eventually a camaraderie develops as they find the common ground that links those brought together by adversity. Veronika takes on Khalid Sangani as her ‘road dog’, having him as a companion who provides a buffer in dealing with Hyatt’s Disciples. Alternately, we find Hyatt relying on the force of numbers, surrounding himself by Disciples who he sends out to recruit Followers to extend his network and coordinate his Days of Defiance.
The effect of homelessness on women is an essential theme in the novel as Veronika is impacted by culture shock in going from middle-class comfort to profound deprivation. The lack of resources causes far greater adversity for women than men as Veronika discovers when seeking overnight shelter. Most facilities are unable to provide the security required to accommodate female residents. As a result, shelters are generally restricted to males. Veronika is forced to sleep in the park as a result and can only rely on Khalid for support in the event of physical attack. Another problem is that of sexual abuse as homeless women are often expected to trade sex for protection and provision. Hyatt appears to offer her protection, though eventually she and Khalid are drugged by the Disciples and sexually assaulted. Veronika realizes that the self-righteous Hyatt sees no crime in this ‘exchange of services’.
Physical and mental health are also major concerns as homeless persons without medical coverage are unable to get anything other than emergency treatment at best. Veronika’s boyfriend and partner Evan Carlow is attacked by the Disciples and requires medical help, which compromises his cover as a homeless person in the course of his surveillance assignment. Veronika herself finds that her most basic feminine needs are only available during the daytime at overcrowded social centers. We can also see that the sociopathic Hyatt and his Disciples are unable to seek treatment for their psychological traumas and emotional deficiencies which are eventually manifested as threats to society.
Issues identified and discussed in John Reinhard Dizon’s King Of The Hoboes are not easily resolved despite society’s noblest efforts. Yet if readers and their communities are able to understand the most basic problems, it brings us closer to finding answers that help us to contribute in a small but significant way.